“The Dominator” is ready to shine on ISU’s rebuilt defensive line

Iowa State Cyclones linebacker O’Rien Vance (34) and defensive lineman Domonique Orange (95) take down West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the fourth quarter in the Big-12 showdown at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Nov. 5. 2022, in Ames, Iowa. Syndication: The Ames Tribune. 

AMES — They call him “the Dominator” and it’s easy to see why. 

Iowa State defensive tackle Domonique Orange stands 6-4 and weighs in at 335 pounds. He’s skilled and explosive on the defensive interior, tearing through the trenches with brute force and bad intentions. He’s tough, teachable and a truth-teller — especially when describing his struggles in camp as a true freshman last season.  

“(It) sucked, I’m not gonna lie,” Orange said. 

The heat, the running, the interminable and endless workload, all of it wore Orange down, but it also built him back up. Now he’s a key component on a revamped Cyclone defensive line that lost three starters last season — including the school’s all-time sacks leader and first-round NFL Draft pick Will McDonald, and his bookend on the edge, M.J. Anderson. Last year’s starting defensive tackle, Isaiah Lee, left the team after being charged as part of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s inquiry into sports gambling, so Orange’s continued development as “the Dominator” looms large for a defensive front that’s been a strength for ISU the past six seasons. 

“I think Orange has done a great job,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “J.R. Singleton (and him), those two guys are fighting it out, one and two, trying to compete to be the starter.”

 Same goes for both defensive end spots, where Joey Petersen and Tyler Onyedim provide the most experience. Petersen — whose father, Troy, and brother, Zach, preceded him as Cyclone defensive linemen — notched 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble as a backup last season.

“Joey has just transformed himself,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said. “Physically looks exceptional and he really got off to a great start in fall camp.” 

Onyedim, a 6-4, 295-pound sophomore, can play inside or outside and totaled three tackles for loss while snaring an interception as a reserve last season. 

“If you look at his last four games, what he had the ability to do and the impact he had on the football game was really special,” Campbell said. “I think he has got the chance to be one of the elite defensive linemen that we’ve had here.” 

That’s saying something, but “chance,” might be the operative word for a primarily young and inexperienced defensive front for the Cyclones. Like most of ISU’s position groups, it’s not fully clear who will emerge as the starters, but that’s not particularly important in this case. 


Because Cyclone defensive line coach Eli Rasheed tends to play the ones and twos in waves — and he’ll sprinkle in some threes, as well. That allows top players to stay relatively fresh while yielding up-and-coming teammates plenty of game snaps to build experience. 

“(Rasheed) does a tremendous job with those guys,” Heacock said. “He buys into their hearts and souls, and I think that’s what’s allowed him to develop young people faster than maybe some.” 

So Rasheed’s provided his group with a winning formula in the past, but if it’s to remain productive, players such as Orange must make the required leaps upward. Even if the more experienced Singleton edges him out as the No. 1 defensive tackle, Orange will still be on the field at critical moments because of Rasheed’s rotations. Good thing, then, that the arduous nature of camp no longer “sucks.” That’s because he’s been through it and built off of it. Orange dropped 15 pounds in the offseason and feels as strong and durable as he’s ever been. 

“It made me faster,” he said. “It made me able to play more snaps, no question. Last year I was probably three — nah, not even that, two snaps and out. This year I can probably go however many as I want to honestly.” 

That could be a lot, with McDonald and company gone, but Orange smiles at the prospect.

 “We know there’s a standard we have to hold up to,” he said.