Kamari Cotton-Moya holds out hope for return from hamstring injury

Iowa State’s defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya and linebacker Willie Harvery run off the field during the game against Kansas. The Cyclones would go on to beat the Jayhawks 38-13.

Max Dible

Kamari Cotton-Moya is down, but he may not be out — at least not for good.

Iowa State’s sophomore free safety was running in open space at practice Oct. 21 in preparation for the Baylor game when disaster struck. No contact was involved, but Cotton-Moya suffered a hamstring injury that brought him to his knees.

His thoughts immediately turned to the worst-case scenario.

“It hurt so much that I didn’t know what to think,” Cotton-Moya said. “I just thought I was done for the season, so that really hurt me, hurt me deep inside.”

But after running the full medical gauntlet, some hope remains that Cotton-Moya could get back on the football field this season. And that hope is not confined to the subjective optimism of an injured player who wants nothing more than to get back between the lines.

“I’m actually encouraged by [Cotton-Moya] right now and the progress that’s been made in six days. He went from walking stiff-legged to now, his normal walking gate, you couldn’t tell [he’s hurt],” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads. “There’s an outside chance [he’ll play again this season], but he’s still got a long way to go.”

The injury’s cause remains undetermined, but Cotton-Moya — who isn’t at the stage in his rehab yet where he’s able to run — said team trainers have explained the injury could span two to six weeks depending on his body’s response.

While not offering any specific timeframe beyond that, Cotton-Moya made clear his intention to get back into uniform before season’s end. But until then, it will require a collective effort in the secondary to replace him, which will be no small task in the opinion of ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham.

“He’s, if not the best, one of the best defensive backs we’ve got. He’s kind of our general,” Burnham said. “We’ll miss that. We’ll miss his leadership, miss his play. He had a lot of tackles this year, the way we’re using our safeties in this defense, so he’s going to be missed greatly.”

Cotton-Moya has racked up 40 tackles this season, tied with linebacker Willie Harvey for the fourth most on the team, including 2.5 tackles for loss. Back from an injury of his own, Cotton-Moya’s primary replacement will be Qujuan Floyd.

“Having [Floyd] back and playing at the level he’s playing is important,” Rhoads said, lauding not only Floyd’s performance against Baylor but also the secondary’s performance as a whole. “Having a guy like Jomal Wiltz gives us some flexibility … and I’m a big fan of De’Monte Ruth.”

Wiltz has experience at safety, corner and nickelback, although Rhoads said he doesn’t expect Wiltz to make a full transition to the free safety spot because he’s too valuable as a cornerback in the schemes the Cyclones want to run.

Ruth picked up more playing time against Baylor, and Rhoads said he’s very confident putting Ruth on the field in a more thorough capacity against Texas on Saturday.

Better play from cornerback Nigel Tribune is also a sign that Iowa State could absorb the loss of Cotton-Moya without too much turmoil.

“He graded out very high [against Baylor],” Rhoads said of Tribune. “[He] didn’t necessarily make plays on the ball but didn’t give the quarterback room to put a ball, and incompletions were thrown his way.

“I thought it was his best game as a Cyclone.”

So it seems the rest of the defensive backfield will hold down the unit in Cotton-Moya’s absence as he continues to progress daily toward his goal of stepping back onto the field at least once more in 2015.

He simply wasn’t meant for the sideline.

“I hate it so much because it’s not who I am,” Cotton-Moya said of his injury-forced hiatus. “I miss it every day.”