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Royston: Next season is going to be fun

Jacob Rice
Cy the cardinal makes snow angels after the 42-35 win over Kansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023, in Manhattan, Kansas.

MANHATTAN, Kansas — Iowa State just beat Kansas State in what turned out to be an unexpected barn burner, and the one thing that came to my mind while watching these two teams trade punches was how fun next year is going to be.

Iowa State was a young team coming into the season. That was obvious from non-conference play.

The team has had high highs and low lows. I know I was expecting the Kansas State game to be one of those low lows, especially given the whimper Iowa State went out on last season.

“I’d love to see what everybody was saying on Twitter before the game,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said.

However, it turned out to be a high high. Campbell proved everyone wrong who was expecting Kansas State to finish strong.

With how exciting the game was, I am just looking forward to next year.

This win showed me one big thing: The young players are good. That’s all that really matters. The players, not other people’s expectations.

“For us, we really worry about the young men that are in this locker room, the young men on this football field,” Campbell said.

When the young guys needed to step up, they did. Especially one position in particular.

The running back room was dealt a blow with Eli Sanders and Cartevious Norton not making the trip to Manhattan, Kansas. With both players potentially entering the transfer portal, as Campbell somewhat alluded to despite them still being on the team, Abu Sama III had to pick up all the reps.

Sama did everything he needed to and more. Sama rushed for three touchdowns and nearly 300 yards.

The last time I’ve seen a player have a performance even remotely close to that was Breece Hall against TCU two years ago. And Hall was not a true freshman at the time.

Sama was just ready for his moment to break out, which is why he did so well when he finally started.

Abu Sama finds the end zone to add on to a career day during the Iowa State vs. Kansas State football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Tyler Coe)

“Being ready for your moment,” linebacker Gerry Vaughn said about how the young players have succeeded throughout the season.

Every young player has been ready for their moment whenever it comes around, which has bled into wins and production on the field.

That willingness to go with the flow is something that shined through all season. Players have had to take unexpected starts since the beginning.

“Our kids just respond,” Campbell said.

That will help the team in the future, as it appears that all the pieces are in place for more solid years to come. The 2023 season was a surprise in how the team exceeded expectations.

After a one-win conference season, the Cyclones were effectively one win away from making the Big 12 Championship. That is crazy.

“This 2023 team kinda realigned us the way our football program is meant to be,” Campbell said.

The best part about the 7-5 regular season finish is that the team will retain a good chunk of players going into next season. Those players will also get extra reps going into the bowl game.

Not counting the running backs, who have already been outperformed by Sama, the Cyclones are really only losing a few players. Chase Contreraz, who has been a stud, T.J. Tampa, who is going to the NFL and Vaughn, a rock of the team.

Besides that, the offense is set to keep most of its starters. There is no telling what the transfer portal will do to this team, but on paper, the Cyclones are set for another season of growth.

Along with that, the guys leaving set up the young guys for success.

“We led the pack, but in order for this all to work, all the younger guys and everybody else has to follow,” Vaughn said.

Iowa State should retain most of its offense, especially the big playmakers that showed up against Kansas State. If the transfer portal does not hit the team hard, Rocco Becht and his pair of elite receivers should be back alongside Sama.

The explosive performance against Kansas State was a glimpse of what this team can do. If the pieces stay together, Iowa State could be fun to watch next season.

“I feel like this season is huge for us to build on and going into next season,” Becht said.

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