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AMES — Three years ago, then-Iowa State standout cornerback Brian Peavy summoned soon-to-be first-time starter Anthony Johnson to study hall, aka the film room.
He wanted the confident and precocious Johnson to understand what it takes to shine at the Big 12 level — and what standards he’d need to uphold.
“(He) was just telling me, ‘This is how it’s gonna go,’” Johnson, who has now made 41 consecutive starts, said back then. “‘It’s gonna come out fast. Just gotta be prepared and at the end of the day, play football.”
Fast forward to this spring.
Johnson — the Cyclones’ best cover corner each of the past three seasons — could have entered the NFL Draft. Instead he took on a new challenge and switched to safety, a move that enhances the Cyclones’ defensive backfield and his own potential professional prospects.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got a COVID year, (so) why not experiment with safety?” said Johnson, an honorable mention all-Big 12 selection at cornerback the past three seasons. “Or make the transition now instead of trying to go into an NFL camp and not being able to pick it up and then losing the opportunity? That was the best decision for me and this team.”
Time will tell, but Iowa State boasts an array of talent at cornerback with T.J. Tampa, Myles Purchase and Tayvonn Kyle among the players turning heads in coverage and run support.
Speedy junior Darien Porter of Bettendorf also has entered that mix after starring mostly on special teams.
“I tell you what, those corners are nice,” Johnson said. “T.J., (Kyle), Darien and Myles Purchase — Oh my God. They look nice. What I’ve seen from that room has been incredible.”
By what have coaches seen from Johnson after the position switch? The usual, Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said.
“A pillar of our program,” he said. “Number one, wanting to move for the betterment of the team to safety. I do think at the end of the day it’s going to be for the betterment of him, as well, but man, that guy has been spirited and has been the leader.”
He’ll have to be. Johnson’s 42 career starts in the defensive backfield dwarfs the 15 other returners at corner and safety have totaled in their mostly young careers.
“There aren’t a lot of veterans on this team,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “It’s a young group. It’s a new group. That’s exciting and I think it also puts extra onus on some.”
Obviously, that “some” includes Johnson, who said he is a natural safety and primed for the opportunity to shine as a leader.
“I feel like I’ve been put on this earth to help others,” he said. “That’s my passion. It’s kind of natural for me.”
So is hitting people. Johnson’s notched 13 tackles for loss, 24 pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his career. But with change comes uncertainty. Johnson said his first day of safety made him “the most nervous I’ve ever been in my whole life.”
Now he’s settled in, the swagger’s back, and he’s the one gathering up younger players to help explain how “it’s gonna go.”
“Credit to him on why you see that defensive backfield playing really good football right now, because I think what he’s done is he gets those guys in the film room when nobody’s watching,” Campbell said. “He’s the guy leading the way."