Iowa State’s JaQuan Bailey embracing leadership role ahead of junior season

Cody Goodwin
The Des Moines Register

AMES, Ia. — JaQuan Bailey stood inside Jack Trice Stadium on Tuesday morning, smiling ear to ear. The junior defensive end was asked about Iowa State’s school record for sacks — 18.5, set by Shawn Moorehead from 2004 to 2006.

Bailey is entering this season with 10.5 sacks, a total that sits just outside the top 10 in school history, but with two seasons of eligibility remaining, the record is within reach.

PREVIOUSLY:Bailey among 3 Cyclones on preseason All-Big 12 team

RELATED:A look at Iowa State's spring depth chart

So he’s asked: ‘Can you get the record this year?’

Iowa State's JaQuan Bailey brings down San Jose State quarterback Josh Love Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.

He looks to his left, then his right. Then he smiles.

“Next question,” Bailey says.

The response sparks laughter, but the message is clear. Entering the 2018 football season, Bailey is walking and talking and acting more like a leader for the Cyclones, something third-year coach Matt Campbell believes will benefit Iowa State’s defense this fall.

“JaQuan has grown a lot in our program,” Campbell said Tuesday during the team’s annual media day. “What I love about JaQuan is that not only has he invested back in himself but in others around him, too.

“The talent will always be there, but watching him tap into his potential, not only as a player but as a person — that’s been really fun to watch.”


Bailey has spent the last two seasons terrorizing opposing offensive linemen. He’s started 20 consecutive games, accruing 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He was an honorable mention freshman all-American by Campus Insiders in 2016, then an honorable mention All-Big 12 Conference pick last year. He was a preseason All-Big 12 selection ahead of this season.

With each big play, Bailey provided another glimpse of his full potential — something that may not have happened without  some tough conversations last season.

Most will remember the play against Texas. In the first quarter, Bailey recorded a sack against Longhorn quarterback Shane Buechele on a third down. Bailey celebrated the big play with a somersault, which prompted a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.

PETERSON:More sacks, not somersaults, for more mature JaQuan Bailey

Instead of punting, Texas kept the ball — and proceeded to score a touchdown and win the game.

Afterward, Vernell Trent and J.D. Waggoner, among other players on the defense, shared words with Bailey. They preached the importance of staying level-headed, and not to celebrate so much that it costs the team. He took those lessons to heart.

“With JaQuan — it’s hard sometimes when guys come in and play as true freshmen right out of high school,” said defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “They’re thrown in the mix and think, ‘Shoot, I play as a freshman ... so everything is good.’ Well, that’s not how it works

“I think JaQuan realizes now maybe a little more of the process and the effort that it takes. If he really wants to be an NFL player or a professional, then you have you act and prepare like a professional. He’s done a good job of learning how to do some of that.”

JaQuan Bailey lets his emotion show by taking a bow after sacking Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes during the Cyclones' game against the Red Raiders in 2016.

Heacock and Campbell both preached consistency to their star defensive end, and he displayed growth over the course of the offseason. He impressed his older teammates and took the young guys, like freshmen Will McDonald, Zach Petersen and Isaiah Lee, under his tutelage.

“Mr. Isaiah Lee,” Bailey said and smiled. “Little baby chicken grease. He’s a dog. Him, Will and Petersen are going to be good.”

Like Campbell said, he invested not only in himself, but in his teammates as well.

“He’s grown a lot,” senior linebacker Willie Harvey said. “Not so much from a football aspect, but mentally, he’s grown. He knows his role and he knows what it takes to be a leader. I think he finally understands that there’s a certain time and place for everything.”

Bailey’s leadership bodes well for the Cyclones this fall. Both he and Ray Lima are the lone returning starters on the defensive line, a unit that will feature plenty of rotational depth this fall. Guys like Kamilo Tongamoa, Enyi Uwazurike, Jamahl Johnson and Bailey’s brother, Joshua, all figure to contribute throughout the season.

RELATED:Kamilo Tongamoa more confident heading into second year in Ames

“We have a lot of guys on the defensive line, a lot of talented guys,” Tongamoa said. “This group — there’s nothing like it. We’re like brothers, like family. I can go to those guys for anything. I love this group.”

Back inside Jack Trice on Tuesday, Bailey was excited about the potential of Iowa State’s defense. But then came a curveball. He was then asked why, even with seven sacks, reporters didn’t talk to him much last season.

He smiled. Even with all the maturity and growth, he couldn’t help himself.

“Next question.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.