INDIANAPOLIS — When Allen Lazard signed with Iowa State in 2014, the Cyclones were coming off a 3-9 season.
Compared with several other football programs who sought the 4-star wide receiver prospect, it seemed like an unusual choice. But Lazard’s father played at Iowa State and so did his older brother. His goal was to change the program’s culture during his duration.
For three seasons, it seemed like he made the wrong choice. The Cyclones were 8-28 and his original coach, Paul Rhoads, was fired after the 2015 season. Lazard, who grew up as any Iowa State fan near Des Moines, wondered if he made a mistake.
“Losing isn’t fun,” Lazard said at the NFL combine on Friday. “I don’t play the game and I know the guys here don’t play the game to lose. I’m a very competitive person and I hate to lose. You can just imagine how hard it was those first three years and what it does to us as players. You’re working in the offseason and you’re grinding Monday through Friday. You’re running through the heat in the summer. And then you go out there and win only two or three games, you question it a lot, you know?
“But I knew there was a bigger picture.”
Despite multiple quarterback changes, Lazard stayed positive. He saw new coach Matt Campbell had changed the culture. Everything fit together in 2017, when Iowa State earned its first bowl trip since 2012 and won the Liberty Bowl. The Cyclones beat Oklahoma for just the second time since 1961 and earned a pair of victories ranked in the top 5.
Iowa State finished 8-5 overall, the second-most wins in program history.
“I could see where the program was heading and what the players were trying to do there,” Lazard said. “To be able to stick it out, it taught me a life lesson. Stick to the process and keep fighting through it. Anything in life worth having you have to work for.”
The team’s success capped a dazzling career for Lazard. He was a two-time All-Big 12 receiver and holds Iowa State records in receptions (241), receiving yards (3,360), 100-yard receiving games (12) and consecutive games with a catch (48). Last season, Lazard led the Cyclones in catches (71), receiving yards (941) and touchdown catches (10).
Lazard was named the Liberty Bowl MVP with 10 catches for 142 yards and a score.
If anything, the team success has bolstered the feelings the 6-foot-5, 227-pound NFL draft prospect has for his alma mater.
“The pride I have for Iowa State is insurmountable,” Lazard said. “It’s something that has a special spot in my heart, just because of all the things we went through there and the guys I went through it with, especially Joel Lanning. Just being able to fight through those seasons with two or three wins where you really can’t see the light.
“To come back for my senior year and have the success that we did is something that was awesome. I can’t explain to you how great of a feeling it was to go out there and win games and have momentum. Always having Cyclone nation behind you, whether you were winning that season or losing, was something that was very cool.”