AMES — Kamari Cotton-Moya heard the good news, smiled, then strode onto the practice field with a spring in his step.
Only drawback: He’ll wear a blue jersey the rest of camp.
Being “protected” — as in hands-off, no contact — isn’t a role Iowa State’s 2014 Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year naturally adopts.
The sophomore-to-be stars as a hard hitter. He’s all in — and that means plenty of bumps, scrapes and bruises beset his body. But he’s also coming off an apparent head injury that led to a three-day hospital stay early in spring practice.
So coaches and trainers will keep a watchful eye on the 6-1, 194-pounder from Bakersfield, Calif., as he’ll run free, but won’t be allowed to be physical over the final half of spring ball.
“(With) Kamari, you have to,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said after informing reporters of Cotton-Moya’s return to the practice field. “Levi Peters, you have to. Those guys, they don’t know full well the meaning of the blue jersey and what you’re trying to do. So, yeah, you’ve got to be smart and you have to get after them on occasion to make sure they back off.”
Good luck, but Cotton-Moya surely gets it. If he wants to be fully healthy after concussion-like symptoms kept him off the field post-hospital stay, he’ll nod every time a coach, doctor or trainer metes out instructions.
Cotton-Moya emerged as a force for ISU’s beleaguered defense during a 2-10 season.
He recorded 12 tackles in a win over Toledo and a loss to Kansas. He had a team-best 77 total tackles and third-best eight pass breakups. He made a highlight reel-worthy goalline stop of former Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters in a narrow loss.
“I’m hoping that next year I’ll go further than being what I was (in 2014) and hopefully get an all-Big 12 (accolade),” Cotton-Moya — who was not part of Thursday’s media availability — said upon receiving his freshman honor.
To get there, he must be willing to hold back this spring. That includes the spring game, of course. If you can’t hit or be hit, you can’t play.
“It’s not fair to have a guy out on the field that’s not tackling, that’s not live,” Rhoads said.
Still, just running — headache-free, apparently — is something.
Rhoads smiled when asked about Cotton-Moya’s reaction to the news he can at least participate in the remainder of spring drills on a limited basis.
“He looked pretty bouncy to me,” Rhoads said. “He was in a neck collar, so he was a little like this (shoulders hunched), but thrilled to be back on the practice field.”
JUCOS STAND OUT, MAY SPLIT
ISU defensive ends coach Stan Eggen said Dale Pierson (Sr., 6-2, 246) had a great offseason. He’s listed as No. 1 on the left edge on the spring depth chart, just ahead of fellow second-year JUCO player Trent Taylor (Sr., 6-2, 257), but that pairing — as expected — might not last.
"Those two guys are playing the same side, but they could play both, opposite of one another, just because we’re going to find the best players and we’ll fit them in the position," Eggen said.
Pierson came on as 2014 wore on, finishing with 29 tackles — 22 of which came in the final four games.
Taylor, Eggen said, may have lost some steam as the season came to a close. He ended up with 37 tackles and two sacks.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Eggen also had good things to say about JUCO end Gabe Luna (who was injured last season) and converted linebacker Darius White. White’s listed as the No. 1 end on the right side for spring ball, with Luna challenging as the No. 2.
Eggen on the 6-1, 251-pound junior, White: "He’s got the strength and quickness to play and it’s (about) him being comfortable in putting that hand down, which is a little different. He’s really adapted to it, accept it and now is really starting to show some flashes.”
Eggen on the 6-2, 250-pound junior, Luna: "Each day you can see a little bit more is clicking with him. Still doesn’t have the confidence yet that we’ll loo k or at the end of spring, but I’m pleased with his direction right now.”