Martin: Return home for Purdy will be an early 2021 highlight

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy moves out of the pocket looking to pass against the University of Texas on Nov. 27. Purdy finished with 312 passing yards and one touchdown.

Zach Martin

It’s a broken record, but 2020 can make the case for being the worst year in the history of planet Earth.

Finding reasons to smile as we celebrate the New Year is difficult for a lot of people, and rightfully so. There are family members who won’t get to drink champagne on New Year’s Eve; there’s the element of uncertainty surrounding the job market.

Want some early joy for 2021?

Look no further than Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy coming home for the biggest game in program history.

The unquestioned leader of the No. 12 Cyclones gets to return to the state that made him the player and man he is today when he leads them out of the tunnel at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, against No. 25 Oregon at 3 p.m. Saturday in the 50th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

“When that bowl game got announced, I was really just thrilled to go home; I’m thankful for that,” Purdy said. “Our main goal is to win the game. All of the guys are doing the right steps.”

Born and raised in the state of Arizona, the Fiesta Bowl was always the main attraction for his family. Although he never watched the game in person, watching it on TV was a common occurrence.

That childhood dream is going to be a reality in less than a week.

“Watching those games, I always envisioned myself being in that kind of game, that environment,” Purdy said. “Being able to understand that’ll be me, is pretty sweet. It’s a dream I’ll be able to live out.”

His roommate and All-American tailback Breece Hall knew once the bowl destination was announced, the opportunity for Purdy to play in his home state is a special one.

“He’s going to be around all his people, and even if they can’t go to the game, they’re still going to be tailgating for him,” Hall said. “When you come home, you want to put on a show, you want to play a good game. I think he just wants to win the game, play well, and send us out right for the last game of the season.”

While no exchanges of texts happened between Purdy and Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning, even the latter isn’t oblivious to what they will be going through emotionally before, during and even after kickoff.

“Knowing Brock, I think there certainly is some excitement,” Manning said. “We’re going back home, but I think Brock’s the kind of guy that if we played in Alaska, he’d be excited because he gets another chance to play. He has such a tight-knit family and a lot of people there obviously know him and support him. He’s the kind of kid that people gravitate towards … and I think he’s just excited to keep playing football.”

Just north of an hour separates Gilbert, Arizona, from Glendale — the fastest route is 43 minutes if you take Interstate-10 and get off exit 133B — where Purdy dominated the high school gridiron.

He threw for over 8,000 passing yards and finished with 107 touchdowns in his four-year prep career at Perry High School, ended up as a three-star recruit and the 24th-best pro style quarterback by 247 Sports.

We all know the schools — or really, school — Purdy told no to over the Cyclones, but looking back on it when asked during the first day of virtual media days, he has profound memories.

“It was all new,” Purdy said. “After that first signing period, a lot of colleges were having a better understanding of who they’d get, quarterback-wise. I was patient with the process. It allowed me to find Iowa State as a home.”

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell has said repeatedly that in the games his team wins this year, or at least the games they have a chance to win at the end, aren’t possible if Purdy isn’t the man under center.

For Campbell, this is the way he wanted Purdy to end his junior year.

“I mean, I definitely think about Brock, and Brock has been such a key component to why our football team and program even had an opportunity to have success year-in and year-out,” Campbell said. “And for him to be able to go back to his home state where he had tremendous success, I think that’s really awesome.”

It will be far from easy. Oregon’s defense led by coordinator Andy Avalos has come on as of late, holding No. 17 USC to a season-low 24 points in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Led by standout defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks have been stout against the run, holding opponents to an average of 4.2 yards per carry.

Purdy has been better as of late using his legs to create better chances for the high-powered Cyclones offense, but that will be put to the test Saturday — a test he is ready for.

“They’re really well-coached,” Purdy said. “What I’ve seen on film so far, they have my respect. I know it’s going to be a good challenge we’re really excited for.”

Really, he is just ready to play in front of friends and family. He’s had a consistent group watch the majority of his games in his mom, dad and girlfriend. No doubt others will be there, too.

And Purdy will get a chance to soak it all in.

“I’m going to have goosebumps going into that game,” Purdy said. “That’s what I’m most excited about. Having that pride of being from this state, all of those thoughts will be rushing through my head. It is going to mean the world for me.”