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No. 7 Iowa State: As Heisman talk builds, Cyclones' Breece Hall relies on his roots

Kellis Robinett
Wichita Eagle
Iowa State running back Breece Hall gives a Cyclones fan one of his gloves after the 42-6 win over West Virginia last season at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Hall enters this season as one of the country's top running backs.

ARLINGTON — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell has a message for anyone out there who thinks Breece Hall might not be able to handle the intense spotlight that will shine upon him this season now that he is a contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Hall remains as hungry and humble as the day he played his first game with the Cyclones ... and there's a reason for that.

"Breece has got a mother that is going to demand that happens," Campbell said at Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium two weeks ago.

It's appropriate that Hall's mother, Larhonda McDaniel, earned a shout out. Hall left Wichita, Kan. for Ames in 2019, but the former Wichita Northwest High School standout still leans on his family and his hometown support system to keep him grounded now that he's the starting running back for a team that enters the season with playoff hopes.

McDaniel works as a Delta flight attendant in Wichita, so she visits Iowa State's campus often along with Hall's stepfather, Jeff Smith. They try to make it to all his games. And whenever Iowa State travels to Kansas or Kansas State for road games, a small army of friendly faces descend on the visitor's section of those stadiums.

Iowa State running back Breece Hall led the country in rushing last season and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting; the five players who were ahead of him all moved on to the NFL.

He wants to make them proud, and he can't do that by focusing on a Heisman campaign, even though he led the nation with 1,572 rushing yards last season on his way to becoming the first unanimous first-team All-American in Iowa State history.

"Home keeps me humble and grounded," Hall said. "It just has to do with the way I was brought up. I was never brought up to be one of those guys that fought over everything. I never thought I had to brag about anything. I am never satisfied. Everything that I've done so far has been good, but I know I have a lot more to do. I know I can maximize my full potential."

It's hard to say exactly what the next evolutionary step might be for Hall.

He has already established himself as one of the best running backs in all of college football, and he has already put his stamp on Jack Trice Stadium. Perhaps next he can put his name in the same conversation as some of his favorite all-time Wichita prep football players, such as Barry Sanders.

"He's probably the best running back to ever play," Hall said.

Hall thinks he is one of the top players to ever come out of Wichita, and he would love it if others agreed with that opinion. He also thinks he has already done enough to help put Wichita "on the map" as a destination for college recruiters.

But he is always looking to do more.

Iowa State rarely recruits the Wichita area, but Campbell made an exception when he stumbled upon highlight videos of Hall playing as a sophomore and junior at Northwest.

"We were the first ones to offer him, and, for me, it was a no-brainer," Campbell said, "because I could compare his video tape to Kareem Hunt and David Montgomery. You could tell he stacked up with all those guys. He was there. Now we just need to develop him so he can play that way consistently. But Breece had such great video tape at a young age that there was no question I knew what he could become."

Iowa State running back Breece Hall autographs a glove after the Cyclones' 42-6 win over West Virginia last year. Hall signed with Iowa State as a four-star prospect with offers from Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Tennessee and Baylor.

Others took a wait-and-see-approach with Hall when he arrived at Iowa State. Yes, he was a four-star recruit with offers from Iowa, Baylor, Kansas State, Michigan, Nebraska and Tennessee, but some thought it might take him a year or two to make an impact at the Big 12 level.

He quickly put those doubts to bed by rushing for 897 yards as a freshman. Then he put himself in the Heisman conversation with a sensational sophomore season in which Iowa State defeated both Texas and Oklahoma on its way to the Fiesta Bowl.

Other teams placed Hall at the top of their scouting reports, and yet they could do nothing to slow him down. The entire team fed off his touchdown runs. Those happened frequently. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, it was hard to keep him out of the end zone.

"One of the great things about Breece is he's got this great smile and he's got the ability to project a lot of positivity," Campbell said. "Breece has earned everything he has gotten. Where does confidence come from? Where do expectations come from? They come from earning the right to have confidence and expectations. He has earned the right to have them. It's not luck, it's work ethic."

When the season was over, Hall's body of work was impressive enough for a sixth-place finish in Heisman voting. He finished behind only Najee Harris, Kyle Trask, Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Devonta Smith.

All five of them are now in the NFL, which means Hall might be the preseason favorite to win the award in 2021.

Of course, his mother won't let him focus on that.

"I want to win the Heisman, but I care more about my team's success," Hall said. "So I'd rather win the Big 12 championship."

Our preseason Top 25

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

Our previous Top 25 team stories:

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels are hoping, banking on good returns from Lane Kiffin 3.0

No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

No. 23 Louisiana: Billy Napier could be college football's next big thing (if he wants that)

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions' safeties honed their craft at Lackawanna

No. 21 Oklahoma State: The next Gundy (Gunnar) begins his Cowboys career

No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes' Dane Belton knows path to NFL goes through team's success

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Ready or not, the Chanticleers intend to stay awhile

No. 18 Texas: Bijan Robinson looks ready to carry the load for Longhorns

No. 17 Wisconsin: Spirited spring helped Badgers bond, players say

No. 16 Miami: Manny Diaz seems intent on building Hurricanes from local talent

No. 15 Oregon: Ducks' program is now  reaching recruiting, NFL draft high marks

No. 14 LSU: Questions that Tigers have taken with them this summer

No. 13 Indiana: Texas A&M transfer Camron Buckley gives Hoosiers another weapon

No. 12 USC: All signs are pointing up for Trojans, making it sunny again in California

No. 11 Florida: Gators have holes to fill, but already sounding confident

No. 10 North Carolina: Tar Heels' Sam Howell managing the hype, expectations

No. 9 Notre Dame: All-American safety Hamilton could help Irish on offense, too

No. 8 Indiana: Fickel, Ridder have taken Hoosiers' program to new heights