Sep 16, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive coordinator Jon Heacock walks in the first quarter in a game assign the Akron Zips at InfoCision Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Over the last two years, Jon Heacock has solidified himself as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. That will happen when you’ve helped transform one of the nation’s worst defenses into one of its best.
He did it while still coaching Iowa State’s safeties on a daily basis. Now, since the hiring of new cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi, Heacock or, as we like to call him here at Cyclone Fanatic, “The Professor,” has only one duty on Saturdays this fall.
Coordinate what figures to be one of the best defenses in the history of Iowa State football.
“I still don’t sleep. I still wake up early. I still go to bed really late. It’s all about the same,” Heacock said on Tuesday. “The only thing that’s really different is the 12 or 13 minutes of individuals that we have. The rest of the time, I just go from position drills to drills and try to evaluate some of the guys is what I’m really trying to do. That’s really the only thing that’s different. Actually, for the kids, probably, it behooves them a little bit because they’re getting position coaches. I’m calling the defense the same as before but I have guys who have eyes right on those kids so I think it’s been a really good situation and our guys are doing a really great job.”
With eight starters returning from last year’s unit that led the Big 12 in scoring and rush defense plus finished second in total defense, Heacock’s job seems pretty easy. Keep putting guys like JaQuan Bailey, Ray Lima, Marcel Spears, Greg Eisworth, and so on, into positions to be successful.
That is not how The Professor operates, though.
He is constantly evaluating, constantly looking for ways to make the Cyclones’ defense even better. The veteran coach is always looking for competition, whether it be from a true freshmen defensive back trying to prove himself or a former walk-on senior battling for his first major playing time.
“I think we’re slowly finding some guys that are coming along. Really excited about our young group that just came in here this summer,” Heacock said. “I feel like those guys have some skills and some size and some different things that allow us to have a little bit of depth and continue moving some guys around… It’s a great competition between the young guys and the older guys as well.”
Other Heacock Notes
*** I love this quote from Heacock on the staff’s evaluation process.
“Just as much as we can,” he said. “Every play, every day. We grade every single play of every single event that goes on, which is a lot. That’s what we’re doing and we’re keeping track. There’s nothing that we don’t watch. Nothing. We watch every single second of every single practice.”
*** Marcel Spears enters his senior season with high expectations after back-to-back productive years helped him land a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team. What does Heacock expect from his veteran will linebacker?
“I think he’ll be a better WILL linebacker,” Heacock said. “That’s what I expect him to be. He’ll have seen a lot of those reads and keys and pass routes and all the different things, formations and sets. Now, he’s a step ahead of where he was before.”
*** While most everyone expects redshirt freshman Will McDonald to be the Cyclones’ starting sam linebacker when Northern Iowa visits Jack Trice Stadium on Aug. 31, Heacock still sees a competition at the position with fellow redshirt freshman Chandler Pulvermacher and redshirt junior Jatairis Grant still vying for the spot.
“All three of them are fighting like crazy,” Heacock said. “One of them will have three great periods then one of them will have a bad period and all those little things that you expect a little bit from the young guys. Their attitude and effort have been incredible. It’s a great competition.”
*** The last major position battle of note is at the strong safety spot where incumbent starter Braxton Lewis is looking to hold off incoming Rice transfer Justin Bickham and redshirt freshman Tory Spears for the top spot.
“It’s just great competition right now. Those kids are fighting like crazy,” Heacock said. “Justin, in fairness, he’s played corner all his life so there’s a little learning curve there. Every day’s kind of new and every once in awhile he gets a little frustrated, but he’s a great competitor, he’s really smart. Braxton, really smart, competitor. Tory Spears, long guy out there, has that size we have not had out there so that’s been a lot of fun to watch him moving around. Again, he’s been there probably 12 practices so just some youth running around back there in that back end but we’re excited about the skillsets that they have.”