Cyclones land key JUCO recruits
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
AMES — Like many downtrodden programs, Iowa State has often struggled to find enough defensive linemen who can make a big impact on the field.
The Cyclones might be in decent shape next year.
Last week, Iowa State signed a pair of junior college linemen, Ray Lima and Matt Leo, and wide receiver Matt Eaton. The Cyclones were already set at receiver before the addition of Eaton, but Lima and Leo are expected to play immediately for a unit that looked pretty thin.
“We’re not backing down from anyone in recruiting,” coach Matt Campbell said. “For us to get to where we need to go, the offensive and defensive lines are critical to us.”
Iowa State’s biggest defensive loss was tackle Demond Tucker, a two-time second-team All-Big 12 selection.
Having Lima ready to replace Tucker would be a best-case scenario for the Cyclones. Lima was rated among the best junior college defensive tackles available by some recruiting publications despite redshirting last season. In 2015, Lima has 21.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks for El Camino Community College in California.
Lima, who also drew interest from Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, TCU and California, will likely be more of a run stopper at Iowa State.
“Ray has got everything you want in an interior defensive lineman. He’s got elite twitch. He’s got really good length,” Campbell said. “He’s got every factor in terms of leadership.”
The Cyclones lose another lineman that earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in end Jhaustin Thomas.
Leo might be more of a project than Lima, but he appears to have a ton of potential.
Leo grew up in Australia, where he played professional rugby briefly before moving to the U.S. to take up football. Leo showed enough as a sophomore for Arizona Western last season to earn top-50 junior college rankings by ESPN and 247 Sports — and he picked the Cyclones over Oklahoma and other big-name schools.
“You just see his film, and each game gets better and better and better,” Campbell said. “He’s got really good technique. He plays with relentless effort.”
Eaton started at Temple before getting injured and receiving a medical redshirt. He left the Owls after barely seeing the field in 2015, but last season at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi he caught 37 passes for 392 yards.
Eaton will have to work hard to see playing time though. Big 12 first-team receiver Allen Lazard and Trever Ryen are returning for their senior seasons, and youngsters Deshaunte Thomas, Carson Epps and Hakeem Butler all showed plenty of promise in 2015.
“To be able to hit on all three guys was incredible,” Campbell said.