Kamari Cotton-Moya has certainly been through his fair share since his arrival in Ames, Iowa five years ago. He's come a long way.
From his redshirt freshman year with Iowa State football in 2013, to the Cyclones’ 2-10 season in 2014. Two more 3-9 campaigns then followed, and a coaching change took place this past offseason.
But the team has certainly improved dramatically this year. Iowa State sports a 7-5 record, with monster wins at No. 2 Oklahoma (38-31 final score) and against No. 13 TCU (14-7). The Cyclones also suffered a narrow defeat to Oklahoma State (49-42) and spent time in the Top 25.
On Saturday, the team will take the field in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against No. 20 Memphis. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in Memphis, Tenn., and the game will be televised on ABC.
Cotton-Moya said through the losing, and the subsequent coaching change that saw the program replace Paul Rhoads with first-year head coach Matt Campbell this past offseason, his perspective on football changed. He said he had to stay strong, keep his faith, and trust that through hard work and dedication, wins would in fact follow.
“January through August we worked hard to make a change and make a difference,” Cotton-Moya said of the Cyclones program as a whole. “We knew it was going to be hard, we knew it was going to be tough. Everyone on the team put their head down and went to work. ... We really wanted to make that happen.”
While Cotton-Moya was a star player growing up in Bakersfield, he has continued to improve his game — and play at an extraordinarily high level — at Iowa State. He won Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2013 and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last year. This season, he’s made 60 tackles and has recorded a team-high three interceptions. He’s also been voted team captain twice, including this season.
“That speaks to what players think of him,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock wrote in an email to The Californian. “He is a leader and the other players on the team trust him. Our players believe in him, and that has been his biggest impact on the team.”
The Ridgeview High School graduate was a standout during his high school playing days. A one-man wrecking crew, Cotton-Moya played quarterback his senior year with the Wolf Pack. He rushed for 2,258 yards that season, along with 27 touchdowns and a 10.9 yards-per-carry average. He also threw for 1,341 yards and 13 touchdowns. He led the Wolf Pack to the Central Section championship, and was named BVarsity Football Player of the Year.
Since Cotton-Moya’s arrival at Iowa State, two of his former teammates have joined him in Ames: running back Sheldon Croney, who’s a redshirt sophomore running back; and defensive back Lawrence White, who’s a redshirt freshman.
“He comes in, he goes to work, and he brings other guys with him. Including me and Sheldon,” White said. “That’s something he’s done since high school.”
When asked about Cotton-Moya’s performance in high school, White responded, “He was phenomenal. He was the best one to come out of Ridgeview. He set that foundation for me.”
Cotton-Moya said he will pursue a career in pro football after his college one comes to a close. He said he plans to train in Los Angeles in preparation for the NFL Combine, which he hopes to get invited to.
He added that he has started an online masters program in psychology at Arizona State University.
But first thing's first: The Bakersfield natives look to go out on top Saturday.
"We expect to win. We never expect to lose," White said.
He would conclude about the Cyclones' season: “It was never a surprise for us. We had a bowl in mind, and we want to follow through.”