AMES — Fans tend to romanticize the unknown.
The latest recruit, they say, was the missing piece of the puzzle, one that will put the team over the top.
In football, there are several guys needed to make such a claim and slowly through the last two years, Iowa State has been accumulating talent.
Ray Lima is one of the latest examples of a guy who hasn’t played a down at Iowa State, but already has had lofty expectations placed on him. His humility and quiet nature contradict how big an impact he could make for the Cyclones in 2017.
“The best thing about Ray Lima is his leadership off the field,” said defensive line coach Eli Rasheed. “He’s a quiet soul, but he does a lot of work off the scene. When we were recruiting him, we knew he would change the culture in our room.
“We knew everybody around him said great things about him, but his belief. That’s how we knew he would trust our process and help our program.”
Lima is a load at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds with three years of eligibility remaining. He looks different than most defensive linemen Iowa State has utilized in recent years. Coach Matt Campbell and Co. beat California and TCU to get him on campus last winter.
His size and foot speed puts him in the sweet spot for an effective defensive lineman. He can pass rush and get an initial push at the line of scrimmage. In Lima’s only season playing at El Camino Community College — he redshirted in 2016 — the Los Angeles native posted 59 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
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Even with those kind of numbers on his resume, Lima’s jump from JUCO to Power 5 football isn’t one that happens overnight.
Participating in spring ball and building chemistry with his teammates, Lima said, has been invaluable to his growth. Defensive end J.D. Waggoner, tackle Vernell Trent and Leo end JaQuan Bailey are the other projected starters on the line alongside Lima.
“The leaders of the defense are Trent, J.D. Waggoner and those guys,” Lima said. “So I’m trying to learn from them. They’re battle tested and I really have no credibility under my belt, so I’m just thankful to learn from guys like that.
“As far as a defensive line right now we’re all blended together, so I have no credit in what’s going on right now, but what I can say is we’re all working really hard. For sure the culture’s changed from last year. I know I wasn’t a part of that, but Coach (Rasheed) says he sees it a lot in our chemistry.
“We just really like being around each other, chain gang. So we’re just trying to keep that strong.”
Lima is soft-spoken and unassuming. His physical size and ability alone sets him up to have a productive career, but his intuition and ability to connect with those around him sets him apart. Even though Lima doesn’t see himself as a focal point of the defensive line, his teammates have no problem shining a light on him.
“He’s perfect for this team,” Trent said. “That’s how I feel about Ray Lima. He’s a good person for this program.”
Iowa State is waiting on one more junior college defensive lineman to join its ranks. The wait for tackle Kamilo Tongamoa has extended past fall camp as the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder finishes classes at Merced College.
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Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell said he expects Tongamoa on campus no later than Wednesday this week, but how much he plays depends on how quickly he can get in shape and learn scheme.
Without Tongamoa, Iowa State still expects to go 10 deep in its rotation. Josh Bailey and former South Winneshiek prep Carson Lensing, in addition to the guys listed on the pre-fall camp two-deep, are in the mix for snaps as redshirt freshmen.
The talent on the ISU front line is starting to gather, but until the lights come on Sept. 2 against Northern Iowa, Campbell said, there will be so much unknown. Unlike fans, coaches don’t usually romanticize the unknown.
“The unknown in some of those groups, guys that have not played Division I, Power 5 football games in critical situations,” Campbell said. “Now, am I really proud of what they’ve done so far and have they laid a foundation that I think they’ll be able to pass those tests? I do. But the fear of the unknown right now is probably the greatest fear I’ve got going into this right now.”
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