Florida swagger solidifies Iowa State secondary

Defensive back Datrone Young (right) and linebacker O’Rien Vance (middle), take down running back Van Edwards Jr. of University of Akron during their game at Jack Trice Stadium on Sept. 22, 2018. The Cyclones won 26-13.

Trevor Holbrook

To emerge as an elite cornerback, confidence is required.

When a cornerback plays a perfect snap and deters the opposing team’s quarterback from throw their way, it typically goes unnoticed by most fans and garners little to no praise.

When a cornerback gets burnt by a deep-threat receiver or Moss’d by a bigger target, corners generate groans from their fans and show up on the wrong side of highlights. Luckily for Iowa State, the Cyclones return talent at cornerback that features plenty of confidence in sophomores Datrone Young and Anthony Johnson.

“Good players,” said defensive assistant Matt Caponi. “Good players for being that young and contributing and playing that many snaps. [They] did some really good things on film and made plays. It’s not easy to play that early, especially in this conference and the situation they were thrown into.”

While the Cyclones lost D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy to graduation, the cupboards not completely empty at the position. Young and Johnson received a taste of Power 5 football last season by contributing late in the season during their freshman campaigns and playing meaningful snaps.

Young and Johnson combined for seven starts last season. The duo’s experience is limited, but it was enough to fuel their confidence.

“We’re young, but that doesn’t mean we’re not able to compete at a high level,” Johnson 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.”

Young and Johnson not only play the same position and possess similar ages, but the two also feature similar backgrounds.

Young hails from Delray Beach, Florida, and Johnson is a St. Petersburg, Florida, native. The home state provided them with a unique attitude compared to other players, according to the corner combo.

“[We’re] big on swagger,” Johnson said. “[We’re] playing with that swagger now, bringing that little Florida boy touch to it.”

That “Florida swagger” will be key in the fall, as the two figure to absorb a bigger role in Iowa State’s stout defense.

The two are talented but still young and learning the ropes with some new faces in the secondary and on the coaching staff.

Iowa State injected a new name into its coaching staff with Caponi. Caponi created a connection with coach Matt Campbell on the Mount Union coaching staff in 2005.

After spending two years coaching at Mount Union, Caponi bounced around to Washington & Jefferson, Pittsburgh, Arizona and West Virginia.

Caponi’s most recent job came on fellow Big 12 school West Virginia’s coaching staff as a defensive backs coach.

“Working in the back end with some great coaches over the years has helped the transition to coach corners a lot easier,” Caponi said. “Coach [D.K.] McDonald has helped me out a ton the first three months picking up little things here and there. What he taught those guys and trying to keep it very similar, but I’m very happy with the decision and glad to be a part of the staff.”

Aside from Caponi, Young and Johnson gained the luxury of an on-field veteran recently with the addition of Justin Bickham from Rice University.

Bickham adds size and experience to the somewhat young unit, starting 23 games with the Owls.

Whether it’s on the field or in meetings with Caponi, Young and Johnson are cornerstones for the Cyclone defense that will be influenced by offseason additions. While their approach may change with more maturity and new perspectives around, their confidence is likely to remain the same.

“We got that little Florida thing going on,” Young said. “Yeah, he [Johnson] did some crazy stuff, but that’s [Anthony], that’s [Anthony]. But you know, we’ve got other young guys too like that — just standing out like that. Really we’re just trying to learn from each other and be great.