AMES – Iowa State defensive end J.D. Waggoner’s celebratory leg kicks are gone for Iowa State football. So is his leadership along the defensive line.
The Cyclones’ defensive line appears to have the pieces in place to grow as a unit, but it doesn’t have a bona fide leader yet, like Waggoner and Vernell Trent were last season.
“There’s no doubt that they started it all – I’m going to give credit," defensive line coach Eli Rasheed said. "Those two seniors have been great for our program and great for our young guys. JaQuan (Bailey’s) doing a nice job, Ray Lima has taken over and Spencer Benton is involved as a senior.”
Bailey said he misses Waggoner and Trent every day.
Bailey led Iowa State in sacks in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Last season, Bailey had seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. Defensive line coach Eli Rasheed said he’s without a doubt Iowa State’s best pass rusher, but he needed to mature to reach his potential.
The most notable example of Bailey’s immaturity was from the Texas game last season. Bailey got a sack early in the first quarter to force a fourth down. But he celebrated by doing a summersault and got a 15-yard penalty. The Longhorns marched down the field and scored on that drive.
Waggoner and Trent helped Bailey mature and grow from that.
“They were challenging me every day – mentally and physically,” Bailey said. “Practices were really hard.”
Lima also had an impressive season last year. It never really showed up in the stat sheet, but Iowa State coach Matt Campbell called Lima an unsung hero throughout last season.
“I don’t know, I still don’t get the term,” Lima said. “I just try to do my job and whatever the coaches ask.”
Last season, Iowa State had two linebackers with over 100 tackles and a third with 77. Rasheed said it was because Lima was consistently taking on multiple blockers, allowing the linebackers to step up. But Lima is working to make more of an impact in the state sheet, so the linebackers don’t always have to make the tackle.
“He’s going to need some production, because he was an All-Conference guy last year, but you have to watch the film to see that,” Rasheed said. “He didn’t have the production, but he’s really done a nice job. He’s 100 percent healthy, he played all season with a nagging back. When he’s healthy, he’s a different guy.”
Lima didn’t want to use the back as an excuse, but he said it didn’t hamper him at times.
And behind Lima, the Cyclones have some depth, something they lacked last season.
Kamilo Tongamoa arrived late last season, putting him behind the curve.
“The big thing about Tongamoa is he gained about 30 pounds when he got here,” Rasheed said. “Right now, he’s lost all 30, he’s 305 pounds. He’s in the best shape, he can run. We’re going to look to play him at some 5-technique because he moves, he has power, he has speed. He’s done a really nice job with changing his body composition.”
The other interior guys competing for spots are redshirt freshman Tucker Robertson, redshirt freshman Angel Dominguez and junior Jamahl Johnson.
Lima likes the competition.
“It’s fun because we have a lot of guys competing for the interior spots,” Lima said. “It’s fun for me going out there because I’m competing with these guys. There’s nothing guaranteed and it gets all of us in our A-game every practice.”
On the edges, Bailey has one end spot all but locked down, but the other spot is open.
The two main contestants are Enyi Uwazurike and Matt Leo. Leo is 6-foot-7 and over 280 pounds.
Campbell said the Austrailian was a freak athlete last year, not necessarily a football player. Now, Campbell said he’s turned himself into a football player.
Uwazurike played last season as a redshirt sophomore. He recorded 16 tackles and four tackles for a loss.
“It’s really nice for me because right now, they’re both even,” Rasheed said. “You get a good No. 1 and No. 2. We’ll see what the rest of the spring will bring and who’s going to end up starting there, but it’s been really nice battle.”