IOWA CITY, Ia. – He is a young man of few words, and a world of potential.
He is Derrick Willies, a redshirt freshman receiver from Rock Island, Ill., who drew rave reviews during Iowa’s spring football practices.
“I don’t really go onto social media too much,” Willies said of his sudden stardom. “I didn’t really hear too much.”
Willies met with reporters for the first time Monday, as part of the Hawkeyes’ annual media day.
His answers were short and intended to deflect attention. It’s his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame and playmaking ability that gets everyone else talking.
“He runs extremely well,” receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “I think he’s probably a mid- to low-4.5 guy (in the 40-yard dash).”
If Willies stays on the right path, he’ll spend the next four seasons stretching Big Ten defenses.
“He’s just got to continue to stay focused,” fellow receiver Damond Powell said. “The thing I can say is, he’s a lot smarter coming from the spring to now.”
Willies seemed pretty sharp in April, catching a 50-yard touchdown pass during a scrimmage at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, and following with a 42-yard scoring play in Iowa’s spring game two weeks later.
But as Willies explained, the turning point came months earlier.
“Really, it was after the (Outback) Bowl game that the playbook started clicking for me,” Willies said. “I felt more confident in what I was doing.”
Now, mastering the hype is a priority.
“The coaches are continually conversing,” coach Kirk Ferentz said, “and I’ve said a couple things to them, too.”
Much of the responsibility falls to Kennedy.
“I try to do a really good job of helping (Willies) block out the noise,” Kennedy said. “I think he knows where he is in his development, and that he hasn’t arrived, yet.
“That he will flash and make some plays, but he’s got to do that on a consistent basis.”
Ferentz hasn’t seen a drop off in the class room, pointing out Willies maintains a 3.0 grade-point average.
“I haven’t seen anything … that would indicate he’s acted any differently than he did before spring practice,” Ferentz said. “He realizes he hasn’t made a catch yet in a varsity game. He hasn’t played and earned a letter.
“I don’t think he’s out trying to create a brand or something like that.”
Willies’ maturity may have come from moving back and forth during his youth, from California to the Quad Cities.
Monday, his feet seemed firmly planted in Iowa City.
“The summer wasn’t bad,” Willies said. “I had ups and downs, but constantly working, constantly trying to get better.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football