The Iowa State coaches talked about Arnold Azunna every week.
Was it worth it to burn the 6-foot, 194-pound Grand Prairie, Texas native’s redshirt and put him on the field as a true freshman?
Cornerbacks coach D.K. McDonald said it came up in every meeting. Each week they made the same decision, but it always came up again. Azunna continued to push himself while working with the Cyclones’ first team and his name continued to show up on the two-deep.
In the end, McDonald and the rest of the staff made the call to keep Azunna’s redshirt in play. He enters the 2017 season as one of the contenders for snaps at the cornerback position and the growth he made during that redshirt season is a big reason why.
“It taught me a lot,” Azunna said on Wednesday. “I learned a lot of lessons from (older guys). Made a lot of mistakes too so that helped my game a lot just going against all the big receivers and all that. So it just helped me be a better corner.”
The former three-star recruit was not the most hyped player in the Cyclones’ 2016 signing class. He was not the flashy name or the guy people pinpointed from signing day on as someone who could see the field immediately in Ames.
That is what made it surprising when his named showed up on the depth chart before Iowa State’s season opener against Northern Iowa. It will not be a surprise to see his name on the two-deep behind juniors D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy when the Panthers come to town next month.
“He’s really good at what he does,” McDonald said. “Press man and covering guys. In this conference, you can’t have enough corners to cover people so that was really good. He has extreme confidence in himself and our defense and those were things we really liked that we saw.”
Peavy has played an especially important role in Azunna’s development as a cornerback. McDonald said the all-conference performer took Azunna under his wing from the jump last season.
The coaches were not certain if Azunna was ready to play a season ago. The staff’s philosophy is they would rather play a guy too late rather than too early. It is no longer too early for Arnold Azunna and he is ready to prove that in 2017.
“It made me stronger, bigger, faster, wiser,” Azunna said. “I think I’m ready.”
They said it
*** McDonald on the expectations for Payne and Peavy
“I just expect them to play to the best of their ability. I think we all know that they’re really, really good corners. Just expect them to go out there and do what they do. Really proud of the summer that they put in and I think it’s going to really show on the field. I’m really excited for them. My biggest expectation is that they continue to be great leaders and I’ve really loved what I’ve seen out of these guys in the first two practices. Their leadership has really taken a whole other level. I don’t know if it’s from being a sophomore to a junior, but it really triggered something in those two and I couldn’t be more proud of what I’m seeing in a leadership aspect.”
*** Peavy on his campaign to get No. 7 from Willie Harvey and Joel Lanning
“It’s still going on. Go vote for me on Twitter.”
*** Payne on how his move to cornerback has gone since camp started
“It’s gone very well. I’ve had a long summer to prepare for it. Just getting my technique better and so far in the first three days it’s been very good.”
*** Peavy on his close relationship with Payne
“That’s one thing we hold each other on is accountability. Just from waking up in the morning he makes sure he calls me. I make sure I call him. Just getting the day started pushing each other.”