Sep 22, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Akron Zips running back Van Edwards Jr. (7) Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Datrone Young (25) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Zips 26 to 13. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — The topic of swagger drew out an emphatic “ooooh” from ISU cornerback Anthony Johnson.
He most definitely approves. In fact, Johnson personifies it. He says it stems from his Florida roots, but really it comes with playing the man-on-an-island position where every misstep is magnified along with every one-on-one triumph.
“We big on swagger,” said Johnson, one of four Cyclone freshmen last season not to redshirt. “We’re playing with that swagger now, bringing that little Florida boy touch to it.”
His bookend at corner, Datrone Young, doesn’t shrink from the swagger spotlight either. A shoulder injury cut his redshirt freshman season short in 2018, but he’s on the mend — and ready to provide ISU with more speed and strength at corner after the departure of program standard-bearer Brian Peavy, who graduated and is chasing an NFL career.
“We’ve got that little Florida thing going on,” the 5-9 Young said of the extreme confidence he and Johnson, who stands 6-0, both exude. “We’re just standing out like that. Really just trying to learn from each other and be great.”
Peavy embodied that his entire ISU career. His work habits — both on and off the field — naturally trickled down to Johnson and Young, by design and as a matter of course.
“Peavy sat me down in the film room one time and was just telling me, ‘This is how this gonna go,’” said Johnson, who started four games last season and posted five pass breakups. “‘It’s gonna come out fast. Just gotta be prepared and at the end of the day, play football.’”
Obviously it’s not in any power five conference — let alone a Big 12 that features many of the top-producing receivers in all of college football on an annual basis.
So Peavy’s sage counsel proved to be — and remains — invaluable.
“In my last interview, I told you guys he did a lot of off the field type things with us,” said Young, who had two pass breakups last season. “He did a lot of that. We watched film together and all that type of stuff to (help us) before he left. Right now we’re just maintaining that.”
Growth flows from that maintenance pattern. New cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi said both Young and Johnson are being looked at to provide leadership to even younger players in the room.
And, for those preoccupied with the abundance of youth in the secondary, Johnson offered a pointed retort:
“Man, we’re young, but that doesn’t mean we’re not able to compete at a high level,” he said. “That’s my take on it. I think we’re very talented — especially my group. I think we’re talented enough to take on the task at hand. I don’t think being young has anything to do with our ability to play at an elite level.”
There’s that swagger. It’s a necessary component, but one that must be measured — and based on results. Young and Johnson continue to grow, but their heads don’t. With more knowledge comes greater humility.
“They kind of lead by example,” Caponi said of the high-performing Floridians. “Trying to challenge them more to be leaders because everybody says we’re a young group and trying to get them out of that mindset and knowing that, ‘Hey, they’ve got to grow. Not just those guys that have the most experience but the whole room.’ We’ve got to grow up. We’ve gotta make sure we take advantage of every opportunity (when) we step between those lines and get better.”
That’s imperative. The strut that accompanies it is earned. And through the bulk of spring practice, Young and Johnson have backed up their bold proclamations with inspired effort on the field and off of it.
“Good players,” Caponi said. “Good players for being that young and contributing and playing that many snaps. Did some really good things on film and made plays. It’s not easy to play that early, especially in this conference in the situation they were thrown in, but it just kind of shows you their maturity. Obviously they still have room to grow as players and people, but really impressed.”