Football: Bonded by Cyclone and Gold
By BRANDON HURLEY
Security is never guaranteed.
A connection forged more than a decade ago has allowed a pair of former Greene County preps to persevere and make their mark on a Division I football program.
Former Rams Noah Juergensen and Daric Whipple found themselves mingling with smattering of athletes from Florida, Georgia and California as they battled for a spot the Iowa State football team last fall. As walk ons, the key, Whipple said, is having confidence and not letting the big-time lights blind you. Ultimately, the diversity of players works as an advantage.
“You can’t sleep on the small school guys,” Whipple said. “It’s a big change, definitely. These guys are coming from big schools that you hear great things about in high school. It’s great to have that competition to get better.”
A life-long bond on and off the football field helped ease the pair’s transition from the humble confines of Linduska Field to the bright lights and raucous crowds of Jack Trice Stadium. Though neither saw a lick of playing time a season ago, the friendship forged in elementary school helped Whipple and Juergensen acclimate themselves to an unfamiliar culture. The former Ram football duo shared a dorm room, which provided them with a quick outlet if things got a little too rocky out on the practice field.
“It made it easier when you come back from practice and you know the person and it’s not awkward like you’re trying to meet somebody or trying to talk to somebody new that you’ve never met before,” Juergensen said. “I’ve known Daric since elementary school, so it’s really easy to go back and talk about the practice or the type of day we had.”
That familiarity was a welcome sight for Whipple as well. Four years together as Greene County football players formed a unique friendship that won’t shatter any time soon.
“The whole time we are trying to meet new guys and get to know our position guys, but at the end of the day, if we need somebody to talk to, I can go back to my high school teammate,” Whipple said. “We literally see each other every day, so it’s pretty easy to talk to each other.”
Riding the bench didn’t do much to faze Juergensen or Whipple. They came to terms with it before even setting foot on campus. Playing time as a walk-on freshman at a Division I school in the Big 12, even as a scholarship athlete, is next to impossible. Despite having huge roles on high school football fields in addition to the basketball court for Juergensen and on the track for Whipple, the idle time on the sidelines wasn’t too strenous last fall. The duo took it in stride as a learning experience.
“I kind of expected that coming in here,” Juergensen said. “Being able to adjust to everything and taking a year to get stronger and bigger and get the hang of things. It definitely helped me going into my second year.”
The redshirt freshman lapped up the opportunity to learn from a top-notch coaching staff. He didn’t sit around pouting, clamoring for playing time he wasn’t worthy of. He made it a point to grow as an athlete.
“I feel like I’m twice a football player I was coming in my freshman year,” the former multi-sport Paton-Churdan and Greene County star said. “I think the first year really, really helps.”
Riding the pine for a season eased Whipple’s nerves while pushing him to become better as well.
“Having that year off to get bigger stronger and faster and smarter about the game is extremely helpful,” the former track star said. “It’s made me a lot more confident in my game.”
Juergensen, a six-foot-four, 277 pound offensive lineman, was skeptical how he’d be treated as a walk-on as he tried to acclimate himself on the Ames campus. He soon found out he was one in the large Cyclone family. But, he and Whipple would have to go the extra mile, everyday, if they wanted to catch the coaching staff’s eye.
“We do all the same things [that] a scholarship player does. We don’t get excluded from anything,” Juergensen said. “You definitely [have] to work a little bit harder to get your name out there because the coach obviously wants something out of all these 4-star and 3-star athletes. They are really looking forward to seeing what they can do, so you just have to work that much harder just to get the coaches talking about you.”
Whipple re-iterated those same sentiments. There’s no time to become lackadaisical as a non-scholarship athlete at a Big 12 school. One slip up and the next guy in line could make you completely irrelevant.
“There’s definitely a little chip on your shoulder,” the slot receiver said. “You have to be working a lot harder than everybody else if you want that opportunity to possibly get a scholarship or fight for a starting spot over a scholarship player.”
The sky-high intensity of college football leaps off the page for the pair. The days are long and grueling – an offseason is nonexistent. The Cyclone coaching staff pushes each player to the brink. As members of a Division I football program, Juergensen and Whipple eat and breathe the sport.
“You put a lot more time into it than most people ever do in high school. Right now, we’re gone from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. so it’s all day, everyday,” Whipple said. “Whether it’s film with coaches, by yourself or with other players. You’re always doing something to get better. So it’s definitely a 100 percent change from high school.”
ISU’s rigorous strength and conditioning program signaled Juergensen and Whipple’s arrival to big-time college sports last fall. Gone were the come-as-you-go high school sessions.
Whipple didn’t hide his displeasure for Division I workouts, letting out an audible groan when weight room sessions were referenced during ISU’s media day, Aug. 2 in Ames.
“It’s a lot more intense [than high school],” the former Ram quarterback said. “You’re not in there on your own, you always have somebody on your butt about getting this done on time, getting that done.
In high school, we had a sheet to get done. Now, we’ve got the coach on your butt every single day making sure every rep is done perfect.”
Juergensen definitely is aware of the increased intensity as well.
“[Strength coach, Rudy Wade], he’s just a pretty intense guy. He wants us to go in there and there’s not a lot of time to mess around or just relax or anything,” the offensive lineman said. “It’s full go for the hour or two hours we are in there.”
Whipple also underwent a pair of position changes, while still trying to adjust to the college schedule.
The 5-10, 187 pound high school quarterback is now a slot receiver, flipping sides of the ball, over from corner back. Both positions rely on speed and quickness, but that’s where the similarities stop, the redshirt freshman said.
“Corner was a lot of backpedaling. Now, I just run straightforward and I have to make my cuts, learning how to run routes,” Whipple said. “Playing quarterback in high school, I never had to do any route-running. I was always throwing to the routes. It has changed a lot. Instead of me guarding a guy and following him to where he goes, I’m actually going to try to get to the spot and look at the ball, so it’s definitely been a complete turnaround.”
If he wants to crack into a talented receiving corps that boasts record-setting Allen Lazard and a couple other guys head coach Matt Campbell said are the most athletic on the team, Whipple will have to hone his craft more than ever. He must zero in on each intricacy of the position.
“A lot more [film study] than you would think. It’s down to to a T for everything,” Whipple said. “Whether your hips are turned right. It’s not just if you run the right route. It’s how you ran the route, where did you stick your foot in, how many steps you got, your hand placement, if your eyes are on the ball. It’s definitely a lot more tedious than you would think.”
The reality of playing football at Iowa State hasn’t slipped past Juergensen or Whipple. One year in and it’s still hard to fathom where their careers have taken them, from Greene County to the Big 12.
“The coolest part for me is definitely the feeling of all this hard work since I started youth football and getting to the Division I level, it all paid off,” Whipple said. “It’s Iowa State and it’s close to home. My family is definitely a plus because I can see those guys most days if I wanted to.
But, running out on the field on Saturdays, all those people, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I love it, I wouldn’t want anything else.”
Iowa State opens the 2017 football season with a home tilt against the University of Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 in Ames. The Cyclones lost 25-20 a season ago to the Panthers and finished the year 3-9.