Bonding by giving back

Cyclones built team chemistry through tornado recovery

T-R FILE PHOTO - Iowa State freshman running back Jared Rus helps clear away downed tree branches from the back yard of a residence on Fremont Street near Rogers Elementary School on July 21 in Marshalltown.

AMES — On July 19, the Iowa State University football program was just getting back on campus.

The new freshmen had barely even reported to campus, and the veterans were getting back in the swing of things.

It was just another day in the long wait for football season to get underway, until around 4:30 p.m. when the players saw something astonishing.

“We had a couple guys start texting each other like ‘yo, did you see what happened on the news in Marshalltown?’ and we all thought we had to get out there and help,” junior offensive lineman Julian Good-Jones said of the team’s reaction to an EF-3 tornado rolling through Marshalltown, less than 50 miles away from Ames. “I said ‘we really have to get the whole team involved, I think this is something that’s really important to this community and we really have to give back in this time because people are in need.'”

The next day after that fateful Thursday in July some of the Iowa State players came out to Marshalltown to see the destruction first hand and see if there was any way they could help out, but there was much more than only a few men could handle.

That was when the players approached head coach Matt Campbell about canceling the team meeting scheduled for that Saturday and instead going out and helping with the tornado recovery.

“It was actually a couple of our seniors that came to me, as well as Julian Good-Jones and a couple others in the group, but it had already crossed my mind, ‘hey, should we cancel? Should we go do this?’ and talking with some of our leadership team it was a no-brainer,” Campbell said.

The only thing that gave Campbell pause at first was the newcomers to the program that had only just gotten on campus, but when it was apparent they were all into the idea the plan was set.

“You never know because the freshmen had just gotten here, but that’s when I knew that no matter what happens this season, we’ve got a really good group of kids,” Campbell said. “That doesn’t give you anything, it doesn’t give you wins or losses, but what does give you is a chance.”

While Good-Jones was a central part of the group that came to Campbell about going to help, he said the idea was much more than just his own.

“The whole team was really amped up to go and it was a whole team effort. It wasn’t just me, a lot of guys were mentioning going out there so we just made it happen,” he said. “A couple of guys texted [director of football operations Greg Brabenec] and got it going.”

Bright and early that Saturday morning, the Cyclones filled three big charter buses and made their way to Marshalltown.

“I never saw a tornado site like that before, so at first it was kind of shocking,” Good-Jones said. “We took the bus in and were kind of looking out and seeing that stuff, it really made me feel good that we came. This is a time that we really needed to come together, and it was a good experience. Everybody was out there ready and willing to help and I feel like we got some good stuff done.”

The ISU players spread out, with two buses dropping off at Rogers Elementary School and one at Woodbury Elementary School, which were both in the tornado’s path.

As soon as the Cyclones filed off the buses they went to work, lifting heavy downed branches and debris, taking apart garages and even moving cars.

“I watched those kids work, and I watched those kids give back and interact, and what was powerful was not only watching our kids do that, but watching this town — who was devastated in some way, shape or form — and the entire community is out there helping each other, working with each other hand in hand.”

While out there working the Cyclone players endeared themselves to the citizens of Marshalltown and got their hands dirty with the recovery, but they also found yet another way to bond as a team before the season starts.

“I feel like since the [Liberty Bowl] the team has grown tighter and tighter every day,” Good-Jones said. “We are in the locker room, we’re hanging out, and just to do something like that means the world to us to be able to help the community like that.”

Campbell said as the coach of these young, developing men, watching them give themselves to the recovery in this grave time of need solidified that they are teaching their players the right things.

“I think the perspective, our job as coaches — yes football is important and this is collegiate athletics — is to continue to foster a culture where our kids have the opportunity to grow not just as football players but as young men,” Campbell said. “I thought it was a really powerful day for us, and I thought it was really powerful just to watch our kids interact with not only each other but with this community.”