Leaders Ready for Next Step

Not many true freshmen can have the type of impact Nick Leaders did in 2002. He found a home early alongside Jordan Carstens and recorded 72 tackles and nine sacks in 13 regular-season games. But setting the bar high is what makes the 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive lineman so special, and Leaders will admit that he had plenty to work on this winter.

Nick Leaders entered his first spring practice as a Cyclone 15 pounds heavier than he was a year ago, and with a full year's worth of playing experience many second-year players don't have.

"I just want to improve on anything I can do, run stopping and pass rushing," said Leaders, who also tallied nine tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries. "Last year I played, but I didn't think I played that great. I don't think I was big enough last year. Some games I wasn't physical enough to play in the Big 12. Now I've gained about 15 pounds and would like to add five more before the season starts, so I should be able to play."

His head coach might disagree with Leaders' assessment of his play last fall. A former defensive lineman himself, ISU coach Dan McCarney hasn't seen many 18-year olds make the impact Leaders did.

"He basically came in and started as a freshman," said McCarney. "He's out there on national television playing against some of the best offensive linemen in the country. There are very few kids I've been around that have that kind of ability, mental toughness and character that he had as a true freshman. That's not covering kicks, snapping, punting, or catching a couple passes. That's playing in the middle of the defensive line in one of the toughest positions in football."

But there is some unfinished business along the Cyclone defensive front – proving that it can stop the run consistently against conference foes. Leaders plans to become a more physical player in order to help his team improve against the run.

"Stopping the run is the main thing, because that's where we had trouble last year," he said. "We need to be able to clog up the middle. Everybody's coming back that has played and we've got a lot of weight on us. We should be able to play pretty well."

Added McCarney, "He needs to be more of a dominant guy and make plays, get more tackles for loss and be more disruptive in the pocket. Those are the things you really look for at that position. It's going to be a good battle with he and Luke (Vander Sanden) in there when we go ones-ones."


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