Special teams star Darien Porter’s set to shine at cornerback for Iowa State

Iowa State football defensive back Darien Porter (10) poses for a photograph during the university football media day at Jack Trice Stadium on Friday, Aug 4, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.  © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMESDarien Porter’s name is synonymous with speed. The Iowa State defensive back ran the first sub-47-second 400-meter dash in Iowa prep history his senior year at Bettendorf in 2019, but his path to playing time as a Cyclone has been far more circuitous.

 And the 6-4, 195-pound senior who formerly languished deep down the depth chart at wide receiver is cool with that. 

 Porter’s stock-in-trade is special teams — and now he’s got the strength and experience to shine as a cornerback, as well.

 “Getting off blocks, tackling, all that kind of stuff, I wasn’t really doing that playing receiver,” Porter said after the Cyclones’ spring game. “But with the switch to corner, that becomes really important, so I think (playing special teams) has been a lot of help and I’m continuing to get better and grow, and help our team on defense and on special teams.”

 Porter’s one of six known players in school history to block at least three kicks in his career. His blocks have come on punts, but he also defended three passes last season while backing up rookie Baltimore Raven T.J. Tampa at cornerback.

 “I think his ceiling is unlimited,” ISU defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said of Porter, who switched to corner last season. “I think he’s a great young man and I think for those guys — even like T.J. a few years ago — the confidence to play defense is different. It’s not what you’ve always done. So he’s a guy that’s constantly building confidence within himself and I think he’s earned our confidence.”

 Porter and sophomore Jontez Williams will both challenge for the starting cornerback spot opposite veteran Myles Purchase. Sprinkle in talented and experienced safeties Jeremiah Cooper, Beau Freyler and Malik Verdon, and the Cyclones’ secondary should remain one of the best in the Big 12. ISU’s defense led the league in opponent completion percentage (55.8) last season and returns 10 players with starting experience.

 Porter’s started exactly zero games in his career, but even if he remains a backup, he’s expected to contribute plays worthy of hype.  

  “I love DP,” Verdon said. “I tell him all the time he could be (like) a corner that nobody’s ever seen. He’s probably one of the fastest dudes on our team. Honestly, probably in the Big 12 or in the country. So him being able to get some of that technique down and seeing him grow as a corner from when he first started to now, he looks like a whole new player. I’m excited to see what he’s about to do this year.”

 He’s not alone. Reigning Big 12 offensive freshman player of the year Rocco Becht also raves about Porter’s upside. ISU’s starting quarterback said Porter’s long, winding path to down-and-distance playing time has allowed him to amass a great deal of knowledge about the game in general.

 “His football IQ is off the charts,” Becht said. “I feel like him at corner, it’s just like a longer T.J. Tampa, so I feel like he’s gonna do well for us this season. He’s gonna put up big numbers.”

 Whether that’s at cornerback or on special teams — or both — Porter’s hidden impact on the Cyclones’ success will continue to be significant. That, in turn, could afford Porter opportunities at the next level, where special teams stars can become NFL fixtures.

 “Not everybody loves special teams,” Heacock said. “If you’re going to be great, and, shoot, we just had (former Cyclone and current Green Bay Packer defensive back) Anthony Johnson come in and talk to our defense, and one of the questions was, ‘Are you on special teams?’ And the answer was, ‘If you’re not on special teams, you’re not playing in the NFL.’ OK, fair. I think that resonates with all our players. You’d better understand the importance of it.”

 Porter certainly does — and he’s become a big hitter as well as a formidable sprinter.

 “I’ve been playing football for a while, so I’m used to it,” he said. “It’s better than getting hit, I can tell you that.”