Iowa State football losing more links to the success of 2020 this senior day

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AMES – When Iowa State was saying goodbye to its most impactful senior class in its history last year, it was clear that a new era was beginning in Cyclone football. The success of the previous five years may endure, but it was going to have to be with an entirely different cast of characters.

As is almost always the case when painting with a broad brush, that was only mostly true.

The Cyclones may have lost program legends like Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, Mike Rose and Charlie Kolar, among a host of others, but there remained plenty of links to the most successful run in Iowa State football history returning for 2022.

Now, though, as Iowa State faces another senior day, those connections will dwindle further.

The 2021 Fiesta Bowl was the culmination of more than 100 years of Iowa State football, but when Iowa State takes the field next season, they’re expected to have just one starter and nine players of the 57 who appeared at State Farm Stadium remaining on the roster.

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Despite a disappointing 4-6 overall record and a 1-6 mark in Big 12 play, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell praised his senior class – led by 12 players who appeared in the Fiesta Bowl – for keeping things together heading into their final home game Saturday against Texas Tech (6 p.m.; FS1).

“Whatever the record is, wherever we’re at, it would have been drastically different had we not had those guys,” Campbell said. “It’s not even just the cultural piece – it's about what does it take to show up every day, to get on the field on Saturday and make the play? What’s it take to play 12 games of college football? What’s it take to handle you had success and everybody crowned you king, and you’ve had failures and everybody’s mad at you?

“It’s all those things that it’s hard to understand that unless you’re in the arena.”

The most notable departures for Iowa State will be Fiesta Bowl starters Xavier Hutchinson, O’Rien Vance and Anthony Johnson, who have all exhausted their eligibility after taking advantage of the waiver granted in 2020 for an additional year due to COVID-19.

“I hope I’ve showed them what sacrifice, hard work, consistency and grit looks like,” Johnson said. “I don’t get a do-over (of senior day) this time. This is it.”

That 2020 waiver complicates knowing exactly who will and won’t be back for Iowa State. Isaiah Lee started in the Fiesta Bowl and is listed as a senior, but could have another year remaining if he wants. He is among eight in that category.

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Campbell, though, said that as players get further removed from 2020, they appear to be less likely to remain for an additional year. Players currently listed as seniors are expected to go through senior day activities Saturday.

“You probably got the best of an idea in the last two years of knowing where you’re at,” Campbell said. “That may change for one or two guys, but those conversations were had going into the season. I asked our guys really to think about that.

“They know what they want to do."

That leaves right guard Darrell Simmons as the only Fiesta Bowl starter with natural eligibility remaining. Current starting corner TJ Tampa and reserve Adian Bitter were the only other true freshmen still on the team to play, both on special teams. There are six other players (Darien Porter, Jirehl Brock, Jarrod Hufford, DeShawn Hanika, Easton Dean and Drake Nettles) who played in the Fiesta Bowl and are not currently listed as seniors.

By next year, that group will have to take the lessons learned from the exiting seniors about passing that experience on to the next generation.

“When you’ve got almost pros by the time you get to be a senior, especially if you’ve grown both internally and through the sport of football, and you’re ready to give back this knowledge and this wisdom that you have, that’s powerful,” Campbell said.

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That connection to the highs of the 2020 season could be especially important as Iowa State will look to move on from what has been a disappointing 2022 campaign.

“I know we’re at a tough road, but Iowa State has seen many tough roads, and we’ve still overcame a lot,” Hutchinson said. “This group and future groups will still have road bumps to get over.

“That’s just life. That’s football. It’s going to be great.”

Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at thines@amestrib.com or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State football saying goodbye to more Fiesta Bowl stars