AMES — Reporters asked questions.
Iowa State’s newly-named head football coach Paul Rhoads provided answers.
The date: Dec. 20, 2008.
One of the non-reporters in attendance: A redshirt freshman named Jake McDonough.
“I was trying to be the first one to shake his hand and see who he was,” said the senior nose tackle, whose playing days at Jack Trice Stadium conclude Friday after a 2:30 p.m. ABC-televised Big 12 game against West Virginia. “It was kind of a new deal for me. I didn’t expect to come in and have a coach just leave.”
The one who left, Gene Chizik, went on to win the 2010 national championship at Auburn, but now appears down to his last few strains of “War Eagle.”
The Cyclones (6-5, 3-5) improved from 2-10 to 7-6 in Rhoads’ rookie year and seek to achieve their first seven-win regular season by beating the high-octane Mountaineers.
They’ll go bowling for the third time in Rhoads’ four seasons.
McDonough saw it coming from that first December handshake.
“It was cool to be here the first day he got here; to see how passionate he is about his job,” McDonough said. “It’s home to him. And he shows it every day.”
Cliche or not, that’s when Rhoads said it seems he first encountered McDonough at that news conference, had steaks with A.J. Klein and his parents on a recruiting visit and cemented what turned out to be a momentous commitment from Jake Knott.
“There’s a group we inherited, I guess is the word I’ll use, and a group that we recruited,” said Rhoads, whose team also seeks its first four-win Big 12 season since 2005. “So you’re looking at two different journeys. I know this, it’s been fast. Really fast. It was just yesterday Jake Knott was committing to me over a table. It was just yesterday I was in the Quad Cities watching (wide receiver) Josh Lenz play basketball. It was just yesterday I was having steaks at the Klein household. And now they’re playing their last regular season game at Jack Trice Stadium.
“So these guys have defined the culture of the modern era of Cyclone football. That’s pretty neat. I’m really privileged to have been associated with them during this time.”
“I’ve had a lot of great things happen here,” said Klein, a 2011 Big 12 co-defensive player of the year. “I’m looking to go out with a bang against West Virginia and the bowl game, too. I want to say it’s not emotional, but it hasn’t hit me yet.”
Neither have the Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5) who field two of the nation’s most explosive players in receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
“They will be an emphasis,” Klein said.
Same goes for former third-string ISU quarterback Sam Richardson, from the West Virginia perspective.
The redshirt freshman completed 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns in his first meaningful snaps at Kansas last week.
But whether he starts or not could remain officially up in the air until …
“2:34 (p.m.),” Rhoads deadpanned Tuesday night.
That’s when the finality of Friday’s game begins to dawn on Klein, McDonough, Lenz and six other projected senior starters.
“It’s been almost surreal just thinking about it,” senior offensive lineman Carter Bykowski said.
As for defining things, the Cyclones generally defer to the man who leads them.
“Some coaches, they don’t always have faith in those guys from the previous coach,” senior defensive end Roosevelt Maggitt — A Chizik holdover — said. “But coach Rhoads, he always had faith in all of us and I’m happy for it.”
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