AMES – True freshman quarterback Brock Purdy never played in a JV game until he got to Iowa State.
That sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense. Iowa State doesn’t have a junior varsity football team, but coach Matt Campbell started playing a sort of scrimmage on Wednesday’s with the true freshmen and younger players on his team.
He started playing the game because of the new redshirt rule that went into effect this season that allows true freshmen to play in up to four games without burning their redshirt, so he wants his players to stay ready in case their number gets called.
“We have totally changed our in-season philosophy,” Campbell said. “And a big reason is for questions like Brock Purdy and a guy like (kicker) Connor Assalley and Johnnie Lang playing in that. (guard) Collin Olson played in it, (tight end) Charlie Kolar played in it — and now these guys are playing for us.
“It’s a good thing, there’s good depth on our roster right now and there’s only one 60-minute game a week that you get the opportunity to play, so how do you challenge these other guys who you know at some point are going have the ability to play or need to play?”
They don’t play a full 60-minute game, but the players will get up to 40 repetitions in a game-like situation. That allows the players to get reps and learn the system outside of the scout team and it allows the coaches to evaluate the players.
Purdy is a player that’s been impressive in the “JV games.”
“Those ‘games’ have allowed him to grow in his confidence of our offense,” Campbell said. “It’s allowed him to grasp our offense in a competitive setting before he had to go out and play the No. 21 team in the nation. I hope from his end that he felt those were beneficial reps. We as coaches felt really comfortable that this guy was ready to go.”
What Purdy showed against No. 21 Oklahoma State is exactly what Campbell saw in the scrimmages. In the game against the Cowboys, Purdy completed 18 of his 23 passes, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 84 yards on 19 carries and touchdown.
Purdy’s longest pass was 60 yards and his longest rush was 29 yards – both are season longs for the Cyclones in passing and rushing, respectively.
The 6-foot-1 Purdy showed a true dual-threat ability to go along with impressive decision making for a true freshman.
The game appeared to be a pretty encapsulating performance of what Purdy can do on the football field. But what don’t Iowa State fans know about the Gilbert, Arizona, native?
“On the field, (Iowa State fans) have obviously seen some of his accuracy, but his vision is unbelievable,” Preston Jones said, Purdy’s coach at Perry High School. “I sure would like to take credit for that but that’s just a gift given to him. When he gets pressured or he’s in bad situations, he always somehow had his eyes down field and he was able to see things open up which is something you can try to teach kids, but to have what he has as far as his vision, is incredible. Because of that vision, he’s able to extend plays and make plays after they’ve gone a little astray.”
Iowa State fans did get a taste of that last Saturday when Purdy threw a touchdown pass to Hakeem Butler in the first quarter. Purdy was pressured, rolled out of the pocket to the right and threw a strike to Butler who toe-tapped his way to a touchdown.
The poise and maturity he showed, not just on that play, but throughout the game was something neither Campbell nor Jones were surprised by. They both said he’s mature beyond his years.
“Brock was one of the more enjoyable recruiting processes that we’ve had,” Campbell said. “I think similar to knowing Kyle Kempt at a fairly young age, the quality of person that you’re getting in terms of maturity, what was expected of you in your high school football program, knowing your background and having real, meaningful conversations at 17 or 18 years old, that’s hard to find today. You could tell there was a great sense of maturity.”
Purdy was a leader the moment he put on the pads for Perry as a freshman. He led the freshman team both my example and vocally. The freshman team only lost one game with Purdy at the helm.
Purdy skipped the JV team and went straight to varsity. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he was mostly a leader by example, but by the end of the year, Jones said he found his footing a bit and began leading vocally as well. Perry didn’t have a ton of success during Purdy’s sophomore season going 4-7, but Jones knew he had something special.
“He was trying to find his niche there but he sure led by example with his work ethic and attention to detail,” Jones said. “He’s so mature – mature beyond his years. Most high school kids, you really have to stay on them. When they’re not in during a drill in practice, they have to be mentally in it. Most of those kids drift off and it’s hard to keep kids’ attention. (His ability to focus) is a unique quality. We strive to have all of our kids do that, but it sure was easy with him because he just did it naturally.”
Jones said Purdy’s junior year is when he really started to take the reins of the offense and the whole Perry team. Their record reflected that. In Purdy’s junior year, Perry went 11-2 and as a senior, Purdy went 12-2, leading his team to the state championship game, which it lost 49-42. Purdy accounted for all six of his team’s touchdowns in that game.
“Coach and Brock really built that program together,” Campbell said. “Hearing that story and hearing the faith in each other and his loyalty to that football program is really impressive. I think there are a lot of things you can find out about a young man knowing the program he comes from – especially when you’re trying to build a program that sustains success over the long haul.”