Surpassing Expectations

If <b><a href=>JaMaine Billups</a></b> needed just four games of experience on defense to win a starting job, just imagine if he'd played there in the first place. After two seasons of being widely used as a special teams player while acting as a third-team tailback, the 5-foot-10, 202-pounder decided that he'd give strong safety a shot before fall practice.

Even he can only imagine the possibilities of more opportunities on defense.

"If I would have started out playing defense from day one, I would have been on top of my game," said Billups, who will replace Anthony Forrest as the starter at free safety after making 11 tackles and one fumble recovery against Iowa last weekend. "I can't really say how I'd be, but I'd hopefully be an All-American or something, getting those honors and awards."

But before he spends much time dreaming about what could have been, Iowa State players and coaches as well as Troy State, bring him back to reality. Billups has no regrets about pursuing his original dream of playing running back, but thought it was time for a change.

"As long as I'm in the program playing football, I'm good for that," he said. "I have had two years of being in the program and now I'm playing defense. That's just how it is. You've got to find your position on the team. I've found where I'm at right now and am enjoying it.

"After going through and realizing that I had two years left, I just wanted to get out on the field and play. From day one, my mom liked watching me play running back. When I talked to her about it, she said that if I was happy then she'd be happy and she was all for it. She realized what I was going through (at running back) and she was cool with it. Instead of fighting it out with two guys at running back, I could get in the rotation right away on defense."

Billups gave the Cyclones a smashing performance, literally, on Saturday against the Hawkeyes. After coming in on the second series of the game to replace Anthony Forrest, Billups went on to play 59 snaps overall and have the best game of his short defensive career. He currently ranks fourth on the team with 27 total tackles in four contests.

Making a change to the depth chart this week, really, became a no-brainer.

"He was just more productive," said ISU coach Dan McCarney during his weekly press conference Tuesday. "He was more effective and has been more physical tackling. JaMaine has just been more effective. He's a better tackler right now than Anthony. They'll both play as they have in the first four games. It's amazing what he's done, because there are some pretty good teams out there that we've played."

Amazing could be considered an understatement, figuring Billups has played defense for only about six weeks of his college career and is already starting for the 21st-ranked Cyclones.

"JaMaine has been one of the biggest surprises on the team this year," said wide receiver Jack Whitver. "He switched there at the beginning of two-a-days and he's already making plays like he's been playing three or four years here. That's a nice surprise for us."

Defensive teammates like the presence that Billups has brought to the playing field.

"JaMaine is a real aggressive and fast player," said cornerback Harold Clewis. "I think the coaches made a good decision by changing him over to defense. He's really helping us out a lot. It seems like he's been playing defense for more than four games by the way he plays. He's just really aggressive, loves to hit and brings some fire to our defense."

Billups would agree. Instead of being hit, as he was for the first half of his college years, he now looks forward to being the one dishing out the punishment.

"I really love the hard contact of hitting," he said. "The excitement of just hitting turns me on right there. It's all part of the game of football."

But as is the case with the ISU defense in general, Billups must improve in some technical areas.

"I've got to bring my arms when I tackle more," he said. "I just really try to square up with the player and take them down and go for the legs. Now I've got to bring my arms in and secure the tackle. There were a couple plays in all four games when I didn't really wrap up and they got yards after missed tackles. We've got to shut that down."

But what else could be expected from someone with only four games of experience? All-American comes to mind.

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