Highlighted by 2018 Big 12 first-teamer Greg Eisworth, Iowa State's safety and "star" position are the backbone of what makes the team's 3-3-5 defense the best-scoring defense in the conference last season.
Aside from Eisworth, Iowa State has incredible depth at star, as well as strong and free safety, due to several players being contributors to the team last season.
Iowa State safeties' role on the team are to fill running lanes and prevent big plays in the passing. The star position is a hybrid position, able to come down into the box like a linebacker and also to provide coverage in the passing game.
One of Iowa State’s best defenders last season, redshirt junior Eisworth was the only Cyclone on the defense to be a First Team All-Big 12 selection by the conference's coaches. He was also the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Trinity Valley Community College.
As the team’s leading tackler, Eisworth racked up 87 tackles and also had two forced fumbles, one interception and six pass breakups. Eisworth will be the team’s starter at star and will be a player making an impact in both the run and passing game.
Next season, redshirt junior Lawrence White, who brings experience to the defensive backfield as part-time starter last season, will be the starter at free safety.
White started five games in the defensive backfield and appeared in 11 games last season and had 50 tackles, one pass breakup and one sack.
Redshirt senior Braxton Lewis has started for the Iowa State defense for 14 straight games, but now finds himself in a three-way battle for the starting strong safety spot.
Lewis had 70 tackles last season, three interceptions, five pass breakups and a sack. He was a Burlsworth Trophy nominee, which is awarded to the best player who began their career as a walk-on. Some notable winners include Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, who won twice, and last year's winner Hunter Renfrow from Clemson.
A transfer from Rice, Bickham was a three-year starter there and is now one of the players competing with Lewis for the starting strong safety spot.
Bickham played in 12 games at Rice last season—starting 10—and had 30 tackles, 10 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
This coming season will be the only year for Bickham, a redshirt senior, to suit up in an Iowa State uniform, but he will be able to provide experience and depth to the strong safety position if he doesn’t establish himself as the starter.
Spears is the third player involved in the battle for strong safety and has propelled himself from a walk-on to a player in contention for a starting role.
Spears, who was a preferred walk-on and had an offer from Idaho, redshirted as a true freshman, but made an early impact for the Cyclones at practice. At the end of the season, Spears was named the Special Teams Scout Team Player the Year by the team.
Competing against two upperclassmen with experience, Spears should be considered the underdog in the battle for the starting spot at strong safety, but he will still likely be a contributor next season on at least special teams.
Richard Bowens III
Bowens, who will be the backup at free safety, is another player who will provide experience and depth. The redshirt sophomore appeared in 12 games last season and had six tackles.
Bowens was going to be a player to make an early impact during his true freshman year in 2017, but his season was cut short after two games, and he was given a medical redshirt.
Azunna will be Eisworth’s backup at star, and will provide experience and depth at the position.
Azunna, a redshirt junior, played in 11 games last season and registered eight tackles and one pass defended.