It’s been a tough start to the Big 12 season for Iowa State, which has dropped three straight in conference play and faces a suddenly tough Texas squad to follow up its one-point loss to Kansas State.
With things off to a rocky start in Matt Campbell’s seventh season in Ames, it’s easy to forget that he’s changed the culture at Iowa State to the point where good players are expected on the field in cardinal and gold. Iowa State’s football past before Campbell isn’t exactly a deep one, as the Cyclones have only ever had one first-round NFL draft choice. That was George Amundson, and that came in 1973, six years before Campbell was born.
The history of Iowa State football before Campbell’s arrival isn’t great, but the Cyclones have had some genuinely great players on his teams and before his era began. Here’s a look back at the 10 best players to wear Iowa State football uniforms!
Best Iowa State Football Players
10. Troy Davis, RB, 1994-1996
No player suffered more from the lack of talent around him than Troy Davis did. The running back dominated the Big Eight and later Big 12 during three seasons in Ames, becoming the first and only player in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons in 1995 and 1996.
Davis was such a dominant runner that he finished second in the vote for the Heisman Trophy despite the Cyclones winning just five games in three years. Had voters in the South actually watched the Cyclones instead of looking at their 2-9 record in 1996 (remember, this was before the era of television, and Iowa State was virtually never televised unless it was playing Nebraska), he likely would have received the Heisman that season. As it was, he earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame and became a third-round pick in the NFL Draft that season.
He didn’t have a great NFL career, but he did top 1,000 yards four times in the Canadian Football League and won a Grey Cup with Edmonton. But even if he’d never rushed for a yard in the NFL, Cyclone fans would still remember his name and hold it in high regard for all he did in Ames. Had he been surrounded by more talent, he could have led Iowa State to the heights they’ve reached in recent years. There’s a reason most Cyclone fans still consider him to be Iowa State’s best player ever.
Iowa State's Troy Davis now a college football hall of famer. Very deserving. Absolute greatness in college. pic.twitter.com/TiMpuwx84y
— Keith Murphy (@MurphyKeith) January 8, 2016
9. Brock Purdy, QB, 2018-2021
Purdy became Mr. Irrelevant in the 2022 NFL draft, but he was incredibly relevant in the Cyclones’ rise to becoming an upper-echelon Big 12 team. After becoming the starter as a freshman in 2018 and showing he could make smart decisions with the ball, Purdy really got going in 2019. He tossed 27 touchdowns against just nine interceptions that season and finished with 3,982 yards to make Iowa State’s offense one of the more feared in the nation.
But the best was still to come, as Purdy took the Cyclones to the Big 12 title game in 2020 and led Iowa State to a Fiesta Bowl rout of Oregon. For a program that used to think getting to Arizona meant the Insight Bowl, this marked a monumental step forward.
His senior year wasn’t quite as strong, but he completed over 70 percent of his passes and the Cyclones made it to another bowl game, something that’s now an expectation at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State fans know it’s genuinely possible to win big in football now, and they have Purdy to thank for part of that.
He will have the tough challenge of competing with Garopollo for the starting QB place in the 49ers, but we are sure he will climb the ranks of the team.
Just a couple of #Cyclones on #MondayNightFootball!
Brock Purdy and @jakehumms of @DCHSMaroons
#NFL #49ers #Rams pic by Brevin Townsend. @CycloneFB
Jake Hummel background: https://t.co/QATZZqCtrL @KCCINews pic.twitter.com/DR4ccCbseB
— Scott Reister (@scottreister) October 5, 2022
8. Breece Hall, RB, 2019-2021
How do you replace the likes of David Montgomery in the backfield? Well, it doesn’t hurt when you have an even better option in your running back room. Hall’s numbers weren’t up to the level of Troy Davis, but Hall also played in a different era, where running backs are asked to run out of the shotgun, block and catch passes far more than they were in Davis’ day.
Whether it was on handoffs or on a pass, when the Cyclones got the ball in Hall’s hands, good things usually followed. Hall rush for 1,572 yards in 2020 and 1,472 yards in 2021, scoring 41 touchdowns in those two seasons and setting an NCAA record for most consecutive games with a touchdown at 24. Only six Cyclones have ever been taken in the second round of the NFL Draft, and Hall is one of them, going 36th overall to the New York Jets in 2022. There’s no question he’s as much of a reason as Purdy for the Cyclones to think big.
Breece Hall has tied Iowa State's season rushing TD record with Troy Davis. Both have 21. #BreeceTheBeast
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) January 2, 2021
7. David Montgomery, RB, 2016-2018
Before there was Hall, Montgomery was the man lifting the Cyclones out of the Big 12 basement and laying the foundation for what Purdy and Hall would take to the next level. Montgomery was a dynamo at running back and one of the hardest workers in the game at any level.
Once he got started, Iowa State could pretty much count on him to gain 100 yards and find the end zone in each game. More than anything, he made defenders miss when he got the ball, as he led the nation in broken tackles in 2017.
Without Montgomery’s runs, Iowa State wouldn’t have been in a position to go beyond the mid-level of the Big 12 and push toward winning a championship.
David Montgomery ran a 4.57 in the 40 at Iowa State Pro Day today. #ProveIt
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) March 26, 2019
6. George Amundson, RB, 1970-1972
When you’re the only one to ever be taken in the first round, that says something about the kind of player that you were. Amundson did a little of everything at Iowa State, as he led Iowa State to back-to-back bowl appearances in an era where that was difficult to do because you could win eight games and get left out of a bowl.
Amundson was the school’s leading rusher at the time with 1,260 yards in 1971, became the Big Eight’s Offensive Player of the Year and even found time to toss the discus in Iowa State’s track season. There will be more Cyclones selected in round 1 someday, but for now, Amundson stands alone.
ISU All-American and NFL player George Amundson also at one time held ISU's discus record. #TBT #CyclONEnation pic.twitter.com/p0gzuwMgng
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) June 4, 2015
5. Seneca Wallace, QB, 2001-2002
Wallace only played two seasons for the Cyclones, but he provided a lot of electricity in a short amount of time. Bring up Wallace to a long-time Iowa State fan, and the first thing that will likely come to mind is “The Run” when Wallace ran all the way back to the 32-yard-line against Texas Tech on a play that started at the Red Raiders’ 12.
Wallace somehow found the end zone on the play, running about 135 yards to gain 12 and get the score.
But there were more moments, such as an upset of Florida State, which made people around the country take notice of Iowa State. The Cyclones still had a ways to go, but the 2000s was when they started to realize that Iowa State could become good at football.
I am extremely honored and grateful to be inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2019. I want to thank all the fans of the cyclone nation for always supporting me through my journey! Go clones pic.twitter.com/F1vHG1h0Kp
— Seneca Wallace (@wallace_seneca) March 8, 2019
4. Allen Lazard, WR, 2014-2017
Getting Lazard was a huge coup for the Cyclones, who rarely landed huge recruits like the No. 7 wide receiver in the entire country. Lazard flourished when Campbell arrived, catching 140 passes for 1,959 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final two seasons in Ames. Even before Campbell became his coach, Lazard still managed to put up enough numbers to become Iowa State’s career leader in both receptions and receiving yards, averaging just over 60 catches a season.
Considering today’s players don’t really stick for four years at a time anymore, it’s going to take a lot for anyone to unseat Lazard, who averaged five catches a game for Iowa State and now catches passes for the Green Bay Packers. He is one of the 8 current Iowa state players on the NFL rosters and probably the one in better form.
Allen Lazard (@AllenLazard) on his time at Iowa State!#NFLCyclones
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) April 23, 2020
3. Matt Blair, LB, 1971-1973
If you happen to run into an NFL kicker from the 1970s, bring up the name Matt Blair and watch them shiver in fear.
Opponents had great reason to fear Blair on special teams, as the speedy linebacker could singlehandedly turn an opportunity for three points into a quick six for his own team by getting past the line to block the kick.
Even today, he holds the Minnesota Vikings’ record for blocked kicks with 20. As a Cyclone, he notched 18 tackles against LSU in the 1971 Sun Bowl and became an All-American in 1973. Had he not missed the 1972 season with an injury, he could have been even greater.
Blair passed away on October 2020, at the age of 70.
Iowa State announces that former Cyclone great Matt Blair has passed away at the age of 70. Blair, an All-American at Iowa State, made six Pro Bowls in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/Gb9JnIljHi
— Chris Williams (@ChrisMWilliams) October 22, 2020
2. Keith Sims, G, 1985-1989
When all goes well, nobody notices the guards. Keith Sims’ lack of attention on lists like these shows just how well he did his job.
With Sims blocking powerful defensive lines from Nebraska, Colorado, and more, Joe Henderson rushed for 1,000 yards in 1988 and Blaise Bryant earned All-American honors in 1989 by topping 1,500.
But NFL scouts could see that Sims was the reason for their success, and the Miami Dolphins chose him in round 2 to protect Dan Marino. Sims was enshrined in Iowa State’s Hall of Fame in 2006, and deservedly so.
Freshman Keith Sims of Iowa State on the bench during a game in 1985. @ksims69 pic.twitter.com/bHBXnaCQoZ
— Wesley Winterink (@WesleyWinterink) May 20, 2020
1. Ed Bock, G, 1935-1938
Very few people know who Bock is, but he’s the other Iowa State member of the College Football Hall of Fame alongside Troy Davis.
Back in Bock’s day, linemen went both ways in college, so Bock had to play every snap at the most punishing position while wearing a leather helmet.
Bock won all-Big Six Conference honors three years in a row and became Iowa State’s first unanimous all-American. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should learn how good he really was.
Ed Bock, Iowa St's 1st All-American (1938). Some call Bock the greatest lineman in ISU history. @CycloneFB pic.twitter.com/zbeenUvzys
— Vintage LSU Football (@vintagelsuftb) February 2, 2016