The writing's been on the wall for some time, maybe since the Cyclones started recruiting Terry Ayeni since December, but Tuesday was the first sight of anything definitive:
Terry Ayeni will play inside.
"Terry Ayeni is already slotted to be an inside guy for us," ISU coach Paul Rhoads said on a teleconference.
By the time ISU got in contact with Ayeni, of New Mexico Military Institute, it had already signed one JUCO defensive end in Gabe Luna and received a verbal commitment from another, Dale Pierson. The Cyclones were looking for a versatile player, with the potential to play end or, if need be, see snaps at three-tech. They had already struck out on true JUCO defensive tackles like Terrell Clinkscales and Tarow Barney and, in scouting Ayeni's teammate Edmond Boateng, saw something they really liked in the 6-foot-2 Ayeni, who was born in Nigeria, moved to Canada when he was eight years old and grew up playing soccer.
Ayeni could grow to be a standout defensive end for the Cyclones, but they sorely need help inside, especially after dismissing Rodney Coe and David Irving this offseason. Ayeni's first football love is rushing the passer — he tallied 7.5 sacks as a sophomore at NMMI — but he knew this would be a possibility, which is why he's spent this offseason beefing up to 275 pounds and staying in contact with defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham.
Unlike Coe, ISU's last JUCO import, Ayeni is technically sound (he did, after all, graduate from Central Technical School in Toronto, Ontario). The adjustment to the interior is the biggest challenge he faces, so the weight gain is a good start. If he can master that, his defensive end fundamentals — he's got the hands of a boxer — might make him a rare pass-rushing weapon at three-tech.
For example, we've pulled a screengrab and made a corresponding .gif of Ayeni's hand action last season. See how he keeps distance from his target off the line, rather than ramming immediately into him, and that allows Ayeni the freedom to do whatever he'd like, really. Given the room, he can manufacture the force to bull-rush the left tackle, but here he goes for a nifty swim move.
For the full, eight-minute highlight, click the below reel.