INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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AMES — Bravado is just a part of Demond Tucker’s game. It’s as normal as pursuing the quarterback.
The senior defensive tackle recently asked his 2,500 Twitter followers what he should do when he inevitably sacks the quarterback. His head coach had an idea.
@Tha_blessed_kid celebrate with your teammates and play the next play!— Matt Campbell (@ISUMattCampbell) August 20, 2016
@ISUMattCampbell Fa show lol— Tuck Dog Ball (@Tha_blessed_kid) August 20, 2016
Tucker hasn’t lost any of the confidence that helped him become the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, but now he’s learning to channel it into his performance. He knows his stats of 28 tackles and team-leading 13 tackles for loss can increase.
It won’t be rare to see his outward expressions, but Tucker understands his role now in a position group looking for a leader. He’s ready to embrace people looking to him.
“Even when I was sick I tried to encourage them and still be out on the field with them and tell them hand placement,” Tucker said. “Even when somebody’s down I try to talk them up and anything I can do to contribute to the team I try to do. That’s something I always had.”
Tucker missed the first couple days of fall camp recovering from the flu, but quickly resumed his role as the starting nose guard. Sickness not withstanding, Tucker has benefited from a change in his body that accompanied the change in defensive scheme.
The 6-foot Hazelhurst, Miss., native has trimmed down to 296 pounds through offseason conditioning and used the summer workout program to improve his motor. He played in all 12 games last season, but could often only play in short spurts before needing a breather.
“They’re different guys,” said defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “They’re in shape, they physically look better and a guy like Tuck has benefited tremendously from it. He’s lost some weight and got himself in shape. You see him more active and running around. And we’ve been smart with them. We haven’t spent them.”
The conditioning regiment was a product of the staff looking at what scheme it wanted to implement against up-tempo offenses in the conference.
“You know just after going through and watching the film in the Big 12, it’s a sideways game and a down the field game,” said defensive line coach Eli Rasheed. “It’s tempo offense so your conditioning and ability to run and get after the football is so huge in this league.”
The Cyclones are moving on from the 3-4 defense of last season and will work out of a 4-2-5 or 4-3, which frees up the defensive line to get to the quarterback easier. Iowa State had 74 tackles for loss last season, ahead of only Kansas, Kansas State and Texas Tech among all Big 12 teams.
Tucker will be alongside guys who have been reserves for the bulk of their careers, but his typical confidence isn’t allowing him to worry. He knows what his group is capable of and isn’t afraid to share what he thinks, just like always.
“The guys I play with, I trust everybody on defense,” Tucker said. “I trust in my brothers and I know they’ll do their job and I’ll give it my all. They’re going to give it their all and we’re going to try to win games this year, more games this year.”
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