Veterans on defensive line try to bring ‘street fighter’ mentality to field


Photo: Adam Ring/Iowa State Daily

Members of the ISU football team attempt to block a West Virginia Mountaineer field goal attempt Friday, Nov. 23, at Jack Trice Stadium. The Mountaineers won the game 31-24.

Dylan Montz

With veteran defensive tackles Jake McDonough and Cleyon Laing having exhausted their eligibility, defensive line coach Shane Burnham doesn’t have the luxury of time to get his new defensive line ready for the season.

Iowa State will have nose guards Brandon Jensen and Walter Woods III returning, but will also rely on redshirt freshmen Collin Bevins and Pierre Aka to play the majority of snaps at tackle.

“We don’t have time; we’re going to be out there before we know it,” Burnham said. “I just have not seen the urgency we want every day and every drill. What I have seen [that is] positive: They are athletic.”

While Burnham feels it is too early to tell what Aka’s contribution could be on the defensive line, he has seen technical improvements in his footwork and hip position.

Aka said he sees the Big 12 as a league unlike any other and one that is exceptionally good at the line of scrimmage.

“You can’t be soft,” Aka said. “You definitely can’t use an excuse as a redshirt freshman. So, right now, Burnham is after our butts. So, right now, we’re trying to keep up with him and get ourselves to that level.”

As one of the more experienced players in the front seven for the Cyclones, Jensen has tried to take a more mentally tough approach to his style of play. This approach by Jensen is something Burnham didn’t necessarily see last season.

“We’re not looking for street fighters, but he’s brought that mentality to my room,” Burnham said. “I never really got that with Jake or Cleyon.”

Jensen credited this to Burnham’s coaching style and desire for the line to fight for everything every snap.

“If they’re chipping us, we should chip them back because [Burnham] doesn’t want you guys getting walked on,” Jensen said. “He doesn’t like that; he wants you to be a fighter because that’s what it takes down there.”

Jensen has tried to lead by example with Burnham’s approach for the young defensive line and show his teammates the “never back down” mentality is an aid for inexperience. The message is one that has started to become clear to Aka.

“What it is, every time you play, every time you put your hands on the ground, just know that you’re going to kick the guy’s butt in front of you in no matter what it is,” Aka said. “Just do not get beat. You have to be aggressive like a fighter. A fighter attacks every time.”