116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor's note: Third in an eight-part series looking at the Iowa State football team, position by position. Next: Defensive line
By Dylan Montz, correspondent
AMES - Kamari Cotton-Moya doesn't take anything he's done on the football field for granted.
His past dictates he should do quite the opposite.
But that doesn't mean he'll rely on the success of last year's Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year performance to lead him to where he wants to go.
'That isn't really even in my eyes anymore,” Cotton-Moya said. 'I'm just looking at being a better teammate, a better leader and just looking forward to what we've got coming up September 5th.”
Since his senior year of high school, Cotton-Moya has survived a gunshot to the shoulder, witnessed the birth of a daughter, started 11 games at free safety for Iowa State and, last spring, was taken off the practice field on a backboard during a Cyclones practice.
The red-shirt sophomore has had to grow up quick - on and off the field.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native was thrust into the starting lineup a year ago and asked to direct the back end. Cotton-Moya led Iowa State with 77 tackles with 2.0 tackles for loss and eight pass breakups, but slowly worked being vocal into his duty. This fall, he's ahead of the game.
'He communicates the checks and brings a calmness and poise to what we're doing,” said secondary coach Maurice Linguist. 'It allows everybody to play fast. When things move and shift, you need a guy that knows what to communicate. A trained defender makes immediate right decisions.”
'He's very smart so wherever the ball is going to be, he's going to be there,” said strong safety Qujuan Floyd. 'He makes plays well and tracks the ball down. Wherever the ball goes, most likely he's going to be there.”
Linguist started to see things click for Cotton-Moya in the second half of last year, but the strides he took in the spring really elevated him. Then on March 10, Cotton-Moya made a routine tackle, but didn't get up.
The 6-foot-1, 197-pound safety was taken to Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames for a head injury, where he remained until March 12. Cotton-Moya returned to practice later in the month, but with a caveat: he couldn't make full-contact hits.
Cotton-Moya spent the rest of the spring in a blue jersey and his coaches and teammates joked they sometimes had to hide his helmet so he wouldn't risk further injury. With the season fast approaching, Cotton-Moya understands how useful the spring was.
'It just made me a better player for what the coaches had planned for me,” Cotton-Moya said. 'It helped me learn plays more and be coachable and be a better leader because I didn't have to focus so much on hitting and making every tackle.”
Don't count on Cotton-Moya being shy about playing physically, either. Last year, Cotton-Moya made physical play his identity. His touchdown saving hit on K-State quarterback Jake Waters was shared on social media for weeks, and Linguist has started to see what else Cotton-Moya has to offer.
'You saw the flashes of him being in the right spot, making the tackle and getting the guy on the ground and getting a PBU,” Linguist said. 'Now it's trying to take it to the next level of really being a disruptive player on the back end and really gloving the ball out.”
Cotton-Moya has been able to learn a lot from his experiences in the last three years, none more so than accepting whatever happens and growing from it.
'Through my past,” Cotton-Moya said. 'I can just look over it, good or bad, and look toward the future.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE SECONDARY
RCB - 1. Nigel Tribune, 5-11, 184, junior; 2. Brian Peavy, 5-9, 184, red-shirt freshman
LCB - 1. Sam E. Richardson, 5-8, 182, senior; 2. Jomal Wiltz, 5-10, 174, junior
SS - 1. Qujuan Floyd, 6-0, 202, senior; 2. Darian Cotton, 5-11, 200, senior; 3. Vic Holmes, 5-11, 197, red-shirt freshman
FS - 1. Kamari Cotton-Moya, 6-1, 197, sophomore; 2. De'Monte Ruth, 5-9, 163, red-shirt freshman; 3. Mike Johnson 5-11, 182, freshman
Cotton-Moya led the Cyclones in tackles with 77 a year ago and has become more vocal, but he'll have experience on either side at the cornerback spots. Tribune is a third-year starter with 64 tackles last season and 13 pass breakups while Richardson led the team in interceptions with four. Floyd's size and physical nature make the secondary the strongest spot on the ISU defense.
Only one backup in the secondary has playing experience - Cotton had 27 tackles in 2014 - but the addition of Wiltz at cornerback gives the Cyclones another option. Last season at Trinity Valley C.C., Wiltz had 79 tackles, 14 pass breakups, 3.0 tackles for loss and an interception, which should give Iowa State quality depth on the edge.
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