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Editor's note: Fourth in an eight-part series looking at the Iowa State football team, position by position. Next: Special teams
By Dylan Montz, correspondent
AMES - Giving status-quo sound bites isn't a part of Demond Tucker's repertoire.
Every interaction with the media is anything but vanilla. A few minutes with Tucker usually produces another lofty goal or bold prediction without hesitation.
It's Tucker's confidence off the field that Iowa State hopes will manifest on the gridiron when he straps on the pads for his first Division-I game. Two weeks of fall camp haven't left the Cyclones disappointed, either.
'Demond is active both in mouth and in action. That's a little spirit we need,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads. 'He's not afraid to be the rah-rah guy. He's not afraid to stand up and say, ‘Hey we've got to do this or we've got to do that.' That's encouraging to see.”
When Tucker arrived in Ames in February as a junior college signee, the list of accolades he brought with him from Copiah-Lincoln C.C. was extensive.
In 2013 he was the first freshman to ever win NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year honors when he recorded 53 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Tucker followed that up with 51 tackles, 10 TFL and 9.5 sacks as a sophomore and started turning heads from the likes of Arizona State, Kansas State, TCU and Texas A&M.
Iowa State's commitment to recruiting junior college players ultimately saw Tucker wind up in Ames.
The Cyclones have 10 junior college players - from the 2014 and 2015 classes combined - in their defensive two-deep and the staff saw it as an opportunity to bolster a line that ranked 122nd in rushing defense last year and gave up 246.3 yards per game on the ground. One of Tucker's declarations is to turn that around, and to become Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in the process.
'I feel like I have the ability to with my work ethic and I pray that I stay healthy enough,” Tucker said. 'That's my goal and I'm trying to reach conference and be player of the year again.
'It's going to take lots of hard work, it's going to take plenty of hours in the study room, so I'm willing to give it all up to do that.”
What Tucker has tried to build on in his six months in Ames is his endurance. At 6-foot-0 and 296 pounds, the Hazelhurst, Miss. native has the mass to make an impact, but for Iowa State to really feel his presence he'll need to do it for several snaps in a row.
It's not crazy to think his endurance will be short of where it could be in the middle and end of the season, but Tucker's progress in the offseason hasn't been lost on the coaches.
'You can tell the difference,” said defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham. 'He got all summer under him with the weight coaches. Certainly he looks a ton better as far as the length of time he can play and the amount of snaps he can play.”
Conditioning and work in the film room have all given Tucker a picture of what he'll be up against this season and he's tried to absorb every piece of information he can get. He'll sit in the film room and study other Big 12 programs and where he can help out.
'I watch a different school every other day,” Tucker said. 'I try to see what I can do and I also watch other defensive linemen. I like to learn from other linemen because I can use some techniques that they use and put mine together to have the whole package.”
But back to Demond Tucker: the chatterbox. Junior linebacker Jordan Harris played with Tucker at Copiah-Lincoln in 2013, and when Tucker finally arrived in Ames, he was the same Demond Tucker that Harris remembered in Mississippi.
Not only had Tucker not changed a bit, he's even louder now.
'He's a high energy guy and he's going to go hard every play,” Harris said. 'Whatever he says, he's going to back it up. He's one of those guys.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE DEFENSIVE LINE
LE 1. Trent Taylor, 6-2, 267, senior; 2. Gabe Luna, 6-2, 243, junior; 3. J.D. Waggoner, 6-3, 250, sophomore
DT 1. Pierre Aka, 6-4, 293, junior; 2. Devlyn Cousin, 6-2, 290, junior; 3. Robby Garcia, 6-4, 283, sophomore; 4. Terry Ayeni, 6-2, 270, junior
NG 1. Demond Tucker, 6-0, 296, junior; 2. Vernell Trent, 6-3, 280, sophomore
RE 1. Dale Pierson, 6-2, 249, senior; 2. Jhaustin Thomas, 6-6, 265, junior; 3. Darius White, 6-1, 251, junior; 4. Justin Madison, 6-3, 221, sophomore
Iowa State lost team co-captain Cory Morrissey to graduation in the offseason, but return defensive ends Taylor and Pierson, who each performed key roles as down linemen with 37 and 29 tackles, respectively. A matured Aka at defensive tackle plus Tucker as the newcomer at nose guard gives the Cyclones a chance to improve on their second-to-last in the Big 12 rushing defense numbers.
There is perhaps no backup on the ISU roster that can make a bigger impact this season than Thomas at defensive end. The junior college transfer was added to the ISU roster at the start of fall camp and at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, provides a big athletic pass rusher. Coaches feel he's made strides in defending the run as well after he's spent the camp working himself into football shape after not playing since 2013.
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