In his best and final work at Iowa State, defensive backs coach Troy Douglas took Nigel Tribune, putty from Florida's North Atlantic coast, and by year's end had fashioned Tribune into the building block of the Cyclones' defense.
AllCyclones.com confirmed Douglas' departure from the football program after three years on Tuesday, multiple outlets reporting Douglas is headed to Pitt in a lateral move. Whoever replaces Douglas will have the unenviable task of patching together a secondary that was No. 76 nationally in pass defense and loses three starters to graduation, but Douglas' parting gift — Tribune — will be one that keeps on giving three years more.
"Sometimes those kids from [Florida], they come out of the womb covering people," Douglas said of Tribune in October. "You know what I'm saying? That's the deal."
In entering Iowa State's contest against Iowa on Sept. 14, Tribune became the first (and only) true freshman to play for the Cyclones in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The 5-foot-10 Tribune, a first-team All-Conference player at Jacksonville Raines, started seven games for ISU, tying for third on the team with six pass breakups, picking off a pass against Oklahoma State and notching 30 tackles.
Things got worse for Tribune before they got better, but that's life for a freshman cornerback.
Prior to Tribune playing his way into a starting role by midseason, he was the top backup at corner, which pushed him onto the field for an ill-fated series against Texas on Oct. 3 when Jansen Watson went out with an injury.
Matched up against an All-Conference wideout Mike Davis, the the Longhorns went after Tribune without mercy, targeting Davis on five of six plays for completions of 12 and eight yards and two pass interference calls on Tribune, one which prevented a possible deep touchdown.
Watson out the the next week against Texas Tech, Tribune "held up pretty good," per Douglas, in what would be his first of seven consecutive starts, Tribune missing the finale against West Virginia with an injury.
Few cornerbacks are good enough or have the mental capability to play as true freshmen in the Big 12, and Tribune's early playing time was partly due to a lack of results/development from Sam E. Richardson and Kenneth Lynn as well as a divide between Charlie Rogers and Douglas, per a source.
"Tribune's just got more range and all that," Douglas said of his cornerbacks in October. "Sam's competitive and he's a technician … Tribune is a natural. He just covers."
Had the Cyclones had better options in the secondary, Tribune could have redshirted and they would have been better than the bottom half of the national metrics. But they didn't, and still don't, necessitating that Tribune take his lumps.
He's come out alright, with more confidence and experience, and a starting job is his for the next three seasons. Tribune will attack the weight room with vigor — Douglas said the rising sophomore needs to add about 15 to 20 pounds but will soon be a "grown man."
If Tribune can develop physically, there shouldn't be many better cornerbacks in the Big 12, a sterling senior class including Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Aaron Colvin, K.J. Morton and Carrington Byndom off to the NFL.
Big 12 defenses will always be up against the curve, so long as ruthless passing attacks are still defining the conference, but a difference-maker at cornerback makes Saturdays a lot easier.
Iowa State has that in Tribune, thanks to Dougulas' grooming. He leaves his replacement with plenty of pieces to put together in the secondary, but he also leaves him Tribune, and that counts for plenty.