Searching For a Silver Lining

This has been one of the worst weeks of my 34 years as a sports fan. As a die-hard Cub fan, I cannot express the combination of frustration, disbelief, anger, pain, more frustration, bitterness and disappointment that I've been carrying with me since Wednesday night.

You know how you feel for those two or three seconds before you throw up…when you KNOW you're going to throw up and you're just waiting for it to happen. THAT is how I've felt for the last few days. Every day. There is a rock in my stomach the size of a loaf of bread. And it's not moving.

For crying out loud, I haven't even been able to watch SportsCenter for the last few days—at least not nearly as regularly as normal—because it seems that every other segment shows Moises Alou jumping for that foul ball or Alex Gonzalez muffing the double-play grounder or Dave Veres actually pitching in a playoff game. Geez…we get it already.

So, when Saturday rolled around and college football could dominate the sports scene again, I felt rejuvenated. Ready to throw the sports fan in me at something ELSE for a while. Something less painful, less disappointing, less agonizing…less awful.

Then, the Cyclones lost to Texas, 40 to 19, in their Homecoming game.

OK. It wasn't an unexpected loss. In fact, Iowa State played a pretty good game in the second half, outscoring Texas, 19 to 13 in the final 30 minutes. I can bounce back from this. After all, I'm a Cub fan. It's like what Steve Martin said in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, "…I can take ANYTHING because I've been with DEL GRIFFITH!"

That's how I feel right now. The world of sports can throw just about anything my way and I can take it. Because I've been through worse.

So, I refuse to write a column today about how bad the Cyclones have been this season, how they might not win another game this fall or how disappointing the last 12 months have been…and so on and so forth.

I won't do it. Not today. I've had enough negativity this week to last for a couple of years.

Instead, I'm going to take a quick look at the performances of Iowa State's freshmen this season. These are the guys who hold the future of Cyclone football in their hands. We all know there are a bunch of them playing this season—and that one of the great things about freshmen is that they become sophomores. So, with all of the experience some of these young athletes are gaining this fall, how bright is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Here are five freshmen who have shown the potential to lead ISU back into the bowl picture next season…

Austin Flynn. The freshman quarterback has shown flashes of game-breaking ability to go with his confident swagger. Flynn has completed 48% of his passes for 1,050 yards, including five touchdowns and six interceptions. His QB rating is 106.1, which isn't too bad. He's also been able to move the ball with his feet, as Flynn has totaled 339 yards rushing and two more TDs. I think this season will prove to be a tremendous education for Flynn, who is probably the "franchise player" of the Cyclone offense.

Stevie Hicks. The freshman tailback had a solid game against the Longhorns, finishing with 67 yards on only 11 carries, good for a 6.1-yard average. With each passing week, the potential of this young back becomes more evident. If he can stay healthy—and the offensive line improves—I think he could be Iowa State's next 1,000-yard rusher next season.

Aaron Brant. At 6-7 and 320 pounds, the freshman offensive lineman from Dubuque Wahlert obviously has the size to become an All-Big 12 type of player. But, the offensive line is one of the most difficult spots on the football field for a freshman to make a big impact. It takes a lot of time to gain the knowledge and techniques that are critical to being a standout offensive lineman. Usually, it takes some time to beef up, as well. The good news is that Brant is going to be big enough and strong enough. The experience he's gained this season should prove extremely valuable. And to have a strong football team—with a consistent running attack—you've got to have a good offensive line. Hopefully, Brant can become a force as early as next fall.

Jason Berryman. The freshman defensive end from Houston probably didn't expect to play as much as he has in 2003. Through seven games, Berryman has totaled 35 tackles, including two for losses and one quarterback sack. He's also one of the ISU leaders with eight QB hurries. I expect him to add a little weight in the offseason to his 6-2, 230-pound frame and he should continue to improve against the run and as a pass-rusher.

Brent Curvey. Another freshman defensive lineman from Houston, Curvey has played in six games this season. At 288 pounds, Curvey should be a good run-stopper in the next few years. This year, he's made 25 tackles, including 2.5 for losses and one quarterback sack. He's also recovered a fumble.

Of course, there are other freshmen who have contributed this season and gained some valuable experience. For example, Seth Zehr should develop into a very good offensive lineman for ISU and guys like DeAndre Jackson and Korey Smith will make big contributions defensively.

So, don't lose hope just yet. Not only will the schedule lighten up a bit in the next few years, but it looks like there are some pretty talented Cyclones who will be able to lead the way.

As a Cub fan, I can tell you that "hope" is not a bad thing. In fact, at times, it's all you have.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Sunday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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