On Campus: More Than Just a Game

Injuries are a part of the game. We've all heard it, seen it and talked about it. But it wasn't until the past two weeks that I fully felt the real impact of an injury. Injuries are the hot topic in this week's edition of On Campus.

Probably one of the coolest parts about being able to work for a place like CN, is the ability to interact often with the guys we all see and cheer for on gameday. At first it was sort of a surreal experience. It was a bit of an eye-opener to realize that these young men are just like me. Only with considerably more talent.


That said, they attend the same classes, have some of the same friends and share the same interests as everyone else at Iowa State.


Growing up, the Cyclone players were idols to me and many other kids. Now, most of the guys on the football team are my age or younger. It's a really odd feeling.


I played AAU basketball against Todd Blythe starting in fifth grade and competed with him all the way up to our sophomore year in high school. (At that point, I realized my lack of adequate basketball height and discernable talent would limit my basketball earnings potential.) Blythe was just another opponent to me back then. Now, he's a bona fide star with the possibility of playing in the NFL.


(If you're curious, my West Des Moines area AAU teams had a pretty favorable record against the lethal, lanky Blythe's Indianola squads. Thanks in large part to my Jacy Holloway-like leadership and Dedric Willoughby-like jumper.)    


Bret Meyer once struck me out in a 12 and under baseball tournament and I've officiated several of Austen Arnaud's and Zac Sandvig's basketball games.


Those are neat stories and all, but the human side of these guys didn't truly hit me until about the last two weeks.


Two players that I have especially felt somewhat of a connection with and got to know fairly well in the past few years are DeAndre Jackson and Adam Carper.


You would be hard pressed to find two better guys on the campus. They represent Iowa State athletics to the truest sense of the term. Always friendly, always accommodating.


Simply, they are just great human beings.


Two weeks ago when I heard news of Carper injuring his knee in practice, my stomach flipped. And for the first time, I wasn't upset because of the lack of depth at linebacker or how we would stop Nebraska's west coast offense without his services. I was upset because Carper wouldn't be able to play a game that he has prepped his whole life to play.


You see, it isn't just a game to these guys. It is part of their identity; part of their make-up. Football is truly a part of their blood. And when an injury takes that away, it's a wrenching thing to see.


Imagine something happening that would prevent you from doing something that you love to do the most.


That sounds painful, but unfortunately it's much more complicated than that. Every one of these guys has the added pressure of tens, if not hundreds, of people that look up to them. Everyone from their families to friends to entire towns expect the best performances from them all the time. They carry a lot more weight than their athletic frames show. And it can be a truly helpless feeling to not be on the field representing those who look up to you.


As ridiculous as it may sound, these guys actually feel like they are letting everybody down by getting injured.


Injuries aren't their fault, but in a way they feel responsible. Their inherent competitive nature wants to be out there fighting for everyone who fought for them.


It has to be a very lonely feeling.


Luckily for Carper, and Josh Raven for that matter, they have two or three years left to ascend back to the top of the Cyclone football mountain, a feat they will no doubt do with the care of the great medical staff.


But DeAndre Jackson's Cyclone career is over. In the split second of a kick-return, everything can be taken away. 


He gave his all for four years at Iowa State. He came in and started as a true freshman, despite at times being undersized and overwhelmed. But he didn't give up and helped the Cyclones recover from a tough 2003 to play in two straight bowl games. He made some great plays on the field, earning all-conference status.


He was also the definition of a leader off the field. Talking to D-Jack in Kansas City for the Big 12 media day this past July, I never got the impression that he was going to make excuses for his young mates on the defensive side of the ball.


He said it was up to him to get them prepared. If they weren't ready, he would make sure they were ready or at the very least pour his heart and soul out trying. He wouldn't give these guys an excuse for failure. He was never a boisterous guy, but he was adamant that "All eyes are on me."


Granted the defense hasn't been stellar this season, but the improvement is evident. And DeAndre is a huge reason for that turnaround.


Although D-Jack has played his last game in a Cyclone uniform, his legacy and heart will live on with the rest of the young secondary. He will now pass the flame given to him by Ellis Hobbs to Chris Singleton, Chris Brown, Steve Johnson, Jason Harris, Drenard Williams and his younger bro, Devin McDowell. There will always be a little ‘Dre imprinted on this secondary.


DeAndre may feel a somewhat helpless and frustrated at the moment. Injuries dig deeper than many realize and surgery is a scary thing. But with his determination and support from the Cyclone Nation, there is no question we will be seeing Mr. Jackson on Sunday's next season.


Go get ‘em DeAndre. We'll be rooting for you.        

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