IOWA CITY, Ia. – Desmond King’s story has been told before. By a guy named Demond.
Demond Sanders, better known as Bob, came to Iowa in 2000 when Kirk Ferentz was in his second season rebuilding the program. And Sanders, who had originally committed to Toledo of the Mid-American Conference, was an important piece.
Sanders broke into the starting lineup as a freshman and never looked back, helping create Iowa’s physical football identity under Ferentz while earning the nickname “Hitman.” Sanders was a three-time all-Big Ten player. The Hawkeyes won one game the season before he arrived, 10 in his senior season.
Sanders, by way of Erie, Pa., arrived with no hype or bravado. The same way King showed up last season out of Detroit, Mich. When Jordan Lomax injured a hamstring in the first game of the 2013 season, King stepped in at right cornerback. He started the final 12 games there, and earned first-team all-Big Ten freshman honors.
“I felt I had the ability,” King said Monday at Iowa’s annual football media day — the first time he’s spoken to Hawkeye reporters, because Ferentz restricts true freshmen from interviews. “I didn’t know if I could make an impact that quickly.”
Like Sanders, King appeared headed destined for the MAC. He committed to Central Michigan, then Ball State. When Iowa defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker showed up at East English Village Prep, King thought he was there to see teammate Khalid Hill, now a freshman at Michigan.
“Then they called me to the office,” King said.
That’s where he met Parker, and agreed to a campus visit. King committed to Iowa on that visit, just weeks before signing day.
“My dream was to be a cornerback in the Big Ten, it didn’t matter where,” the 5-foot-11, 190-pound King said. “I felt Iowa was the right fit for me.”
Coaches pay great attention to detail, but King threw Ferentz for a curve.
“You never know what a guy’s going to do in competition,” Ferentz said. “For him, as a true freshman, to walk in there and do what he did and perform like he did, at a very tough position, it’s really admirable of him.”
As Iowa improved from 4-8 to 8-5 last season, King survived on an accelerated learning curve.
In truth, success stories like King’s are vital for programs like Iowa to succeed.
Guys who play trying to prove they belong can be just as important as four- or five-star recruits.
King became the first true freshman to start in the defensive secondary at Iowa since 2002. He finished fifth on the team with 69 tackles, recovered a pair of fumbles and got picked on more than once by teams looking for a soft spot in the Iowa secondary.
“He made some plays, and made some rookie mistakes,” Parker said.
King played safety as a senior in high school, but adjusted quickly to corner with a natural sense for football and what the position requires.
“Where he can go, who knows?” Parker said. “He has to stay focused and be humble. He has a lot of progress to make before he reaches where I think he needs to be.”
At the Outback Bowl, LSU star receivers Odell Beckham, Jr., and Jarvis Landry praised King and predicted a big future.
“It boosted my confidence,” King said. “But I still have room for improvement.”
The worst thing an athlete can do is think he has arrived after the fast start to a career. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and one King must avoid. Especially if Iowa is to have the success expected of it this season.
The secondary is one of the biggest questions on the 2014 Hawkeyes.
“Obviously, we have to improve ourselves,” starting strong safety John Lowdermilk said. “Talking is not going to prove a whole lot. The only way to prove it is to perform.”
King stood out to Lowdermilk early in camp – his balance, his movement from side to side, how he slid his feet and hips.
“Athletic kid,” Lowdermilk said. “Smart kid, too.”
Of Iowa’s 17 secondary players on the roster, Lowdermilk is the only senior.
Four are sophomores, three are red-shirt freshmen — and seven are true freshmen.
Maybe one of them will break out this season, provide much-needed depth and be the next Desmond King.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@ByRickBrown).
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football