Two days before Iowa State’s 2018 season opener against South Dakota State (which was famously canceled before halftime due to lightning), Matt Campbell called a true freshman linebacker’s mom to let her know that her son had won the starting middle linebacker job and that he would be starting the first game of the season. That true freshman was Mike Rose.
While the first game of the season was canceled, the freshman Rose was a standout performer in his first official game of the season, a defensive slugfest at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa. While the Cyclones lost that day, Rose showed why he had earned the starting job before ever taking a collegiate snap. And all he’s done since then is repay Campbell’s trust in him ten times over. He had proven he belonged.
Fast forward to November of that same season. The Brock Purdy show is in full swing and Iowa State looks like a team to be reckoned with. However, Bill Snyder and the Kansas State Wildcats were in town, looking to continue their run of dominance in the series from the previous decade (or two). Early on, the game looked to be headed down that familiar path of defeat, but the Cyclones, adorned in black, decided it wasn’t time to die.
A rollout touchdown pass to Sam Seonbuchner cut the 38-21 K-State lead to ten points early in the fourth quarter.
Then, Mike Rose happened.
Nobody will ever really know exactly how the ball floated directly into Mike Rose’s single outstretched arm, nor how he managed to break free of the lineman and scamper into the endzone for the touchdown. The crowd’s initial burst of joy at the sight of Willie Harvey slamming into Skylar Thompson is enough to clear the sky on a rainy day, but the moment Jack Trice Stadium, which, on this night, was more a collective spiritual being than any group of hardy individuals, realizes who has the ball is enough to bring even the most stoic of us to tears. An uproar so raucous it shook the heavens.
The perfect play, at the perfect time, made by the perfect man for the job (even if we didn’t know it yet).
You’d be unsurprised to learn that, even despite a position change to outside linebacker, not his natural position, mind you, Mike Rose was nothing short of outstanding for the remainder of his career in Ames. 2019 proved to be another step forward before he began his outright dominant 2020 campaign.
In his junior season, Mike Rose led the Big 12 in interceptions with a whopping five(!) in just twelve total games and finished fourth in tackles. All this lead to him earning First Team All-Big 12 Honors and being named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year, a worthy title for the best linebacker in the Big 12, and one of the best in college football.
For his whole career, Mike Rose embodied the toughness, leadership, and intelligence we’ve come to expect from Campbell’s best players. When a defender was in a space and a crucial tackle needed to be made, Mike Rose was there. When the defense needed a critical stop on third down, Mike Rose was there.
When Iowa State needed a huge defensive play to cap off a furious comeback at home against Baylor, Mike Rose was there.
When Iowa State needed one final defensive stop to cap off a dominant win in the program’s first-ever New Years’ Six bowl game against the Oregon Ducks, Mike Rose was there.
Most interceptions by a LB this season:— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) January 3, 2021
1. Mike Rose, Iowa State - 5 pic.twitter.com/sg2fQtZFBo
That’s really the best way to synopsize Rose’s career. When you needed him, he was there.
And now, we’re going to have to move on to a reality where number 23 won’t be there.
However, that’s a different emotion for a different day, because we have the privilege of watching Mike Rose take the field at Jack Trice Stadium one more time this Friday, and I’m so thankful I will be there.
Thanks for everything, Mike.