AMES — The Iowa State cornerback position has gone from one of the most experienced groups in 2018, to one of the most inexperienced in 2019.
But that inexperience doesn’t mean there’s any less talent — or swagger — in the room.
Former seniors Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne both graduated and redshirt sophomore Datrone Young and true sophomore Anthony Johnson are stepping up in their places.
Both saw significant playing time last season — Johnson impressed the coaches so much they elected to burn his redshirt.
“They lead by example,” first-year cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi said. “We’re kind of challenging them more to lead by example. Everybody says we’re a young group and we’re trying to get them out of that mindset and say, ‘Hey, we have to grow up and we have to make sure we take advantage of every opportunity we have to get better.’
“They’re guys who help out the younger guys when it comes to the film room and even out on the field. They’re helping and doing a great job, even from their experience from last year is a benefit from my end.”
Johnson’s first big game came against Capon’s former team, West Virginia.
Johnson and the rest of the Iowa State secondary shut down then-Heisman contender Will Grier and the Mountaineers offense. Will Grier passed for just 100 yards that game with one touchdown and one interception.
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“West Virginia was crazy,” Johnson said. “It was a sell-out crowd, the stadium was loud and it was a big game. It was a good feeling. I liked it.”
Johnson is using his experiences he had as a true freshman to grow even more during his first offseason.
“Last year’s experience made me more comfortable,” Johnson said. “Everything slowed down for me, so I have a lot more confidence.”
Young became one of the key pieces in Iowa State’s secondary last season. So much so that Matt Campbell and staff decided to move Payne to the star position and have Young start at cornerback.
“They’re good players for being that young and playing that many snaps,” Caponi said. “They did some really good things on film and made plays. It’s not easy to play that early — especially in this conference and the situation they were thrown into. It shows their maturity. They still have room to grow as players and as people, but I’m really impressed by what I saw last year and even through this first spring.”
The entire secondary is relatively young. It only has two seniors — one is safety Braxton Lewis, a former walk on, and the other is Amechie Walker, a former receiver.
“We’re young, but that doesn’t mean we’re not able to compete at a high level,” Johnson said. “That’s my take on it. I think we’re very talented — especially in my group. I think we’re talented enough to take on the task at hand. I don’t think being young has anything to do with our ability to play at an elite level.”
Peavy took both Johnson and Young under his wing before he graduated and showed them the ropes of leadership, how to prepare and how to watch film.
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“I took a lot from the senior class that left us and now I have to step up and be a leader this year to the younger guys,” Young said.
Both Johnson and Young are from Florida and one thing neither of them lack is confidence — they call it swagger.
“Swagger is big,” Johnson said. “We’re big on swagger. We’re playing with swagger and bringing that little Florida boy touch to it.”
Johnson isn’t afraid to throw a little trash talk on top of the swagger, either.
Caponi likes it ... to an extent.
“Sometimes I think it’s a little bit of immaturity — that goes back to me saying we need to grow up in certain situations,” Caponi said. “I understand it — you see the same guys for 10 practices and a little bit of jawing goes on. It’s knowing when to do it and when not to do it. I know it’s all in good fun, but hey, go and celebrate with your teammates and that’s stuff we can do another day.”
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