116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi took over a young roster when he arrived in 2019.
Brian Peavy and De’Andre Payne, who were the cornerstones of Iowa State’s cornerbacks room, had just graduated and Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young had barely scratched the surface as freshmen who got some playing time.
Now, Johnson and Young are the veterans in the room along with Tayvonn Kyle as the Cyclones finally have some experience again at the position.
Johnson is the undeniable leader of the position room. He did an admirable job last season against Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace — the Big 12’s leading receiver. Wallace finished the game with five catches, 76 yards and no touchdowns. Last season, Johnson had 40 tackles, five pass breakups and two tackles for loss.
“Anthony has grown a lot,” Caponi said of his senior leader. “Not only as a football player but as a person. He’s really become the leader of the group. He’s changed his body through the strength and conditioning program — he’s already put on 10-12 pounds. He looks different and with the experience he’s gotten, comes confidence.”
Johnson’s experience and ability are unparalleled at Iowa State.
“He can line up on the field side or the boundary side, he’s our best cover guy and he’s had so much experience, he’s almost like a second coach,” Caponi said. “He really helped develop our younger guys last year in T.J. (Tampa) and Michael (Antoine). They played a little bit and they were a couple plays a way from playing a lot more. He’s done a really good job this spring leading those guys and pushing them to become better football players on and off the field.
“He helps me out a ton.”
Caponi also feels comfortable with four other guys — the aforementioned Tampa and Antoine, who are both sophomores now after burning red-shirts last season, and Young and Kyle.
Young and Kyle traded starts last season at the corner position opposite Johnson. Caponi wants to see more consistency from that duo.
“It’ll take consistency and production,” Caponi said of who will earn the starting spot come fall. “I thought one guy was on one game and another was on another game. We went with the hot hand, whoever was playing better at the time.
“I feel like we have five really good corners who can all play, and I don’t like playing guys 80-90 snaps a game, so whether it’s Tayvonn or Datrone, we just need one.”
Young, a senior, is finally getting his first true spring experience. After his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was dealing with shoulder injuries and was limited during drills. And last spring was essentially canceled.
Caponi has noticed how beneficial an actual spring has been for Young.
“His confidence is at an all-time high right now,” Caponi said. “He’s had back-to-back shoulder injuries, so this is the first time he’s had a true offseason. He has been one of those guys that’s not technically sound all of the time, but he’s experienced and he’s really savvy and that’s gotten him through.
“The fundamentals part of this spring has been huge for him. He’s gotten a ton better with his footwork and I think that comes with the confidence he has in finally getting a true offseason.”
If the Cyclones can find a match for Johnson on the other side of the field, whether it’s Young, Kyle, Tampa or Antoine, it could elevate the defense to an even higher level.