As the season continues, Iowa State relies on its self-sustaining trust

Xavier Hutchinson, Sean Shaw and Brock Purdy talk on the sideline against No. 8 Oklahoma State on Oct. 23.

Matt Belinson

AMES — Iowa State football’s culture has been well-established in the five years under Matt Campbell.

The self-described “Five-Star” emblem and the idea of senior-driven leadership have been the groundwork for the Cyclones’ rise to the top of the Big 12 over the last five seasons. But above all else, it comes back to one criterion — one that defines the star players and rising underclassmen alike at Iowa State: Trust.

Brock Purdy, Eyioma Uwazurike, Xavier Hutchinson, Greg Eisworth and dozens of other “A” players have built this trust with Campbell and their teammates over the years by how they approach life, way before they make plays on Saturdays. They enjoy hard work and maintain the standard that’s come to the forefront in Ames over the last five seasons. When the lights aren’t on, Campbell knows they put in extra time to make the program stronger rather than themselves.

Without that trust in their best players, Campbell isn’t sure if Iowa State would have made it this high up the Big 12 ladder in his tenure. Take 2021. After a 2-2 start, the Cyclones have responded by leaning on their most trusted players, sitting 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Big 12 play with five games left in the regular season.

“I would say trust is the No. 1 quality in our program, period,” Campbell said. “I don’t care what it is or who you are or what it’s about. I think that’s what’s allowed us to have an inkling of success here is the ability to have trust throughout our program.”

Hutchinson, one of the aforementioned examples of trust in the program, had one of his best games as a Cyclone on Saturday against Oklahoma State. The senior wideout caught a career-high 12 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. But his performance didn’t catch anyone within the walls of the program by surprise.

They’ve believed in Hutchinson since he arrived. Two months after he got into the program, Campbell recalls raving about his work effort, consistency and high spirits.

“I really think if you go back and watch every game he’s [Hutchinson’s] played here, maybe other than that Louisiana game where he’s kind of getting his footing underneath him, he’s been nothing short of exceptional for us,” Campbell said.

“When that value system carries over to plays on the field, there’s only so many and there’s only one football. And I think you want to try to, whether it’s the coach or the quarterback, you want to deliver the ball to the people that you feel absolutely confident that are going to have the ability to make the play when the ball comes their way.”

Hutchinson has had at least 80 receiving yards in eight of his 19 total games as a Cyclone.

Hutchinson has worked to grow in his teammates’ and coaches’ graces in his two seasons in Ames by staying consistent and patient. The wide receiver position is about being a steady force to turn to for a quarterback. You don’t get 12 receptions without that belief.

All Hutchinson wanted to do was use the belief from others in the program to fuel his play on the field. After showing he can make plays at an elite level, he began to bring that belief into how he views himself. 

“I just think from the coaching staff and everybody else, they believed in me ever since I got here,” Hutchinson said. “My mentality became, ‘They believe in me a lot this much, I think it’s time for me to start believing in myself that much like the coaches do.'”

That program-wide trust isn’t just for the household name stars like Hutchinson. Redshirt sophomore Jarrod Hufford doesn’t need anyone to give him confidence in himself. It comes naturally.

That being said, the redshirt sophomore offensive lineman was thrown into the fire in 2020 in the Fiesta Bowl, going up against one of college football’s most elite pass rushers in Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Ducks’ pass-rusher and the Oregon defensive line didn’t record many sacks against Iowa State back in January, but Thibodeaux is projected as a top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, even after missing the first three weeks of the season.

That experience gave Hufford validation in himself, as well as a boost in how the Cyclones’ coaching staff views him. His limited 2020 playing time and the behind-the-scenes development gave Hufford confidence in himself in his second career start this past Saturday.

“I’m not afraid of anybody,” Hufford said. “Going into this game [Oct. 23 vs Oklahoma State], scouting the defensive ends like 89 and 96, big dudes, I wasn’t worried about them. I know what I’m capable of, that I’m strong and can be as fast as anybody can be play at the line.”

And that confidence grew from how vocal his head coach was of his play.

“When we needed Jarrod Hufford the most, and that’s in the Fiesta Bowl and you’re talking about elite defensive line and he’s got to step in and play and then you watch how he played in that game I think that was huge chip for him in terms of our staff saying, ‘Man, I think this guy’s really ready to take a huge step forward.'”