Iowa State defensive line puts pieces together

Matt Leo poses during football media day on Aug 3.

Ben Visser

Iowa State defensive lineman Matt Leo didn’t leave everything he knew in Australia just to give football the “ol’ college try.”

He’s committed to the sport and he’s committed to the process, coach Matt Campbell said. And that’s exactly the kind of guy Campbell loves to have on his team.

“With Matt, it’s an internal drive,” Campbell said. “You don’t leave home, you don’t give it all up, you don’t give up a great job to say, ‘Hey listen, I’m going to come to the United States of America and just give it the ol’ try.’

“It’s really been a vested interest in the sport and the game. Matt’s here all the time, Matt’s training, he eats right, he’s addicted to the process it takes for him to be the best because it’s a personal investment for him to want to be the best.”

Leo stands 6-foot-7 and tips the scales at 276-pounds. The junior college transfer is a large human being. But he doesn’t want to just rely on his size, strength and athleticism.

The former rugby player wants to know the game of football inside and out.

“I don’t want it just to be our size that determines if we win or lose, I want it to be our football IQ and us knowing our spots,” Leo said.

Leo won’t be the lone junior college transfer anchoring the defensive line, 6-foot-3 and 306-pound Ray Lima found himself atop the fall-camp depth chart.

“Ray Lima and Matt Leo will be instant impact guys for us some how some way,” Campbell said. “To what extent and what range, I don’t know yet. But I can tell you those guys instantly make our football team a better football team.”

Last season, JaQuan Bailey became an instant impact player for the defensive line. As a true freshman, Bailey ripped his way into opposing teams’ backfield.

And he did it looking like “he had a tire around his belly” – according to Campbell. Now, Campbell said Bailey looks like a statue of what you want a defensive end to look like.

Bailey and redshirt freshman Enyi Uwazurike have transformed their bodies since arriving to Ames a year ago.

“JaQuan Bailey and Enyi [Uwazurike] have grown in our program over the last nine months, and now they’ve had a whole summer here to develop and get JaQuan Bailey to 260 pounds. Enyi went from 260 pounds to 290 pounds. To me, I think we’ve grown a great deal. We look the part in a lot of ways.”

Senior J.D. Waggoner said Bailey is probably the best pass rusher on the team.

“I think [JaQuan] has grown up a lot since last season,” Waggoner said. “He’s definitely one of our best players. He takes a lot of pride with what we do on the field and it’s that kind of commitment and effort that will help us.”

Waggoner, one of the few seniors on the defensive line, said his leadership will be enormous, especially with the youth and inexperience on the line, regardless of how much talent and ability they’ve flashed.

“It’s important to be a leader to the younger guys in case we get into scenarios in the game where we face some adversity we don’t like,” Waggoner said. “It’s important to know that I’ve been in those situations before and calm them down to be able to keep our composure and work through those kinds of situations.”

The defensive line is largely unproven outside of a few players, but Campbell has been impressed by their growth early in fall camp – though he’s not ready to give them the throne.

“I’m apprehensive to crown them kings because there’s still a lot to be proven with that group and we need a great fall camp and we need to show we can make plays and be disciplined under the lights,” Campbell said. “So far it’s been really fun to watch that group because I think there’s a lot of talent there.”