AMES — Every day, an Iowa State defensive player signs and cradles a football, signifying he “won the day.”
The new competitive ritual has focused on takeaways, pass break ups and strips so far. And only one player has done deeds impressive enough to allow him to scribble his name more than once on that pigskin. That’s strong safety Qujuan Floyd, who now feels fully at home on the back end of coach Wally Burnham’s defense.
“Yeah,” Floyd said calmly when asked about his autograph-worthy exploits in fall camp. “Twice to be exact.”
Floyd, a 6-0, 202-pound senior from Los Angeles, has come into his own. The junior college transfer’s knowledge of the defense has finally caught up with his ever-present playmaking ability. Football is fast and furious again for Floyd, who struggled last season to absorb all the ins and outs of the Cyclones’ defense
“Now, I’m having a lot of fun,” said Floyd, who played in 11 games last season, notching 33 total tackles. “Last camp I didn’t really know anything. So day by day, my mental state would be down and all that because (of that). So coming into camp, I wouldn’t be ready for it, or I wouldn’t have a positive mindset. But now my mind is positive every day, so I get through every day.”
More than that.
Floyd has emerged as a potential game-changer — thanks in part to playing alongside with, instead of competing with, Big 12 freshman defensive player of the year Kamari Cotton-Moya.
“He’s a real aggressive player and seeing him play that aggressive just makes me want to play more aggressive,” Cotton-Moya said.
Floyd’s fury was on full display early in camp, when he got into it with receivers Darius Lee-Campbell and Quan West.
Floyd said he felt a shove after the whistle blew during a bubble drill. His reaction?
“I went back at him,” Floyd said. “It wasn’t anything serious at the time. It was just reaction, and the first day of fall camp, so got to be aggressive.”
The internal spats serve as concrete evidence of what Floyd calls “brotherly love” among the team.
Brothers fight, right? But the love remains — and even deepens sometimes.
“It’s put the kids to bed now,” ISU defensive passing game coordinator Maurice Linguist said. “Those (receivers), they’re going to compete. Those guys are making us better and I feel like we’re making them better. We’ve got some of the best receivers, I feel like, in this league and they’re competing every day. And those one-on-one matches: It’s ‘who’s going to win it?’”
No punches were thrown, Floyd said.
The brotherly love-based skirmish simply stands as a testament to a true sense of brotherhood — one he didn’t observe upon arrival last season.
“This year, when I say brotherhood, I really mean brotherhood,” Floyd said. “Last year, we had cliques, people separated by groups and everything. But now, everyone talks to each other. When we eat in there, everybody is mixed together. It’s not a group here, a group there, or those sorts of people there. So everybody’s together. We communicate, we hang out and do everything together.”
That includes competing for that coveted football, which the “winner” gets to tote around until the next competition ensues and a new one-day champ is crowned.
Needless to say, the fight for it remains fierce.
“When you’re trying to change or renew a culture of guys, who cares if it matters to us?” Linguist said. “It’s got to matter to them. It’s got to matter to the kids and the kids are getting excited about it, which gets us excited about, which gets those kids more excited about it. It’s a good thing to see.”
With more to come.
“It’s quite exciting,” Floyd said of being the ‘win the day’ front-runner (for now). “It lets the whole team know that I’m working to try to get turnovers.”
*** Linguist has a deal with offensive coordinator Mark Mangino: No sugary sweets throughout fall camp. But when an ice cream truck pulled up alongside the Jacobson Building, Linguist feared he may melt.
“I saw that ice cream out there and I don’t know if i’m going to make it,” he joked. “We had cookies earlier. I passed that test. We had some brownies out there. But I think I saw butter pecan. I’ve got to go out the back door.”
*** Linguist expects big things out of Floyd this season. Here’s how he described the hard-hitting safety:
“He’s a guy that we’ve been excited about really since spring stepping into that role of strong safety. He’s disruptive guys. You guys are going to see it here in a little bit. He’s physical and he’s big — C.O. (Clayton Oyster) and those guys did a great job this summer in the weight room with him. He looks like a Big 12 safety. He plays and hits downhill like a Big 12 safety. And he can go up there with two hands and intercept the ball at the same time. We’ve been pleased with him and his progress right now. He’s got to continue to take the steps, but I’m excited for him and the season he’s going to have this year.”
***Junior cornerback Nigel Tribune grew a lot after one of his roughest moments. Giving up a deep ball late in last season’s razor-thin loss to Texas set him to soul-searching.
“I really took those things hard,” said Tribune, a second-team all-Big 12 selection as a sophomore by the Associated Press. “After the Texas game, man, after I gave up that last deep ball, I really went home and cried that night. It’s just something I look back on. It’s something I take serious. It’s something I won’t let happen this year.”