ISU's Campbell goes JUCO route in the trenches
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
AMES — One of Iowa State’s biggest questions entering preseason practice was its defensive line.
The Cyclones are hoping to see three junior college transfers emerge as quality Big 12 players as soon as possible.
Iowa State (3-9 in 2016) was hit hard by attrition, losing starters Demond Tucker, Jhaustin Thomas and Mitchell Meyers to graduation. The Cyclones responded by hitting the transfer market, signing Matt Leo, Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongamoa in the offseason.
Tongamoa hasn’t arrived on campus yet because he’s finishing up academic work. But coach Matt Campbell said on Monday, when the Cyclones held their first fall practice, that Tongamoa is expected to be in Ames this week.
“It’s not a shock to anyone. We kind of knew this was the situation was,” Campbell said.
Counting on junior college transfers to make an immediate impact can be dicey at best — especially at an area as important as defensive line.
Still, Iowa State beat out schools it usually doesn’t beat to land all three of them.
Leo, who will turn 25 on Saturday, grew up in Australia playing rugby before moving to the U.S. to give football a try. He blossomed at Arizona Western Community College in 2016 and chose Iowa State over an offer from Oklahoma among others.
Leo, who joined the Cyclones for spring practice, is listed as a backup at tackle on the depth chart.
“He’s excited. Healthy,” Campbell said of Leo. “Really excited to get him into some needed (repetitions) that he’ll need all fall.”
The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Lima, a redshirt sophomore, picked the Cyclones over Oregon and TCU.
Tongamoa, who is 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, led all California junior college players with 25 tackles for loss last season for Poly Tech and turned down Oklahoma State and Texas to play for the Cyclones.
But as practice began on Monday only Lima — who is penciled in as the first-team nose guard — is listed as a starter.
The Cyclones have two experienced players at end returning, led by sophomore JaQuan Bailey. He was one of the nation’s top ends as a freshman, with 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss.
Bailey and senior J.D. Waggoner, whose 2016 season ended following a shoulder injury after just five games, entered fall camp as first-teamers.
Though its defensive line is in flux with the season just a month away, Iowa State should be deeper there than it was a year ago.
The Cyclones open Sept. 2, hosting Northern Iowa of the FCS.
“You can breathe a little bit,” Campbell said. “Last year, every time you went out to practice you were hoping (someone) didn’t get hurt. I think now, you can actually go out and compete.”