Kirk Ferentz is down to three healthy corners for the Outback Bowl: Desmond King, Josh Jackson and Michael Ojemudia.
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Desmond King said Thursday that he never thought about sitting out of the Outback Bowl in order to focus on the NFL Draft.
Iowa’s star senior cornerback — a likely high draft pick in April — said he understands why other college football players are making that choice.
“It’s about going out there and focusing on the game. It’s not about your health,” King said. “That’s the thing about football, that you’re going out there and sacrificing your body for the better of the team.”
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So that’s what King will do one final time in his familiar No. 14 Hawkeye uniform Jan. 2 in Tampa, Fla. He’ll line up on the right side of Iowa’s defense and lock up on whatever Florida Gator dares to challenge him. He’ll even continue to return kickoffs and punts, where the risk of injury is higher.
“I don’t ever think about getting hurt,” King said. “That’s something that you don’t want to think about.”
King’s first bowl experience came three years ago in the Outback Bowl, as an unheralded freshman tangling with LSU stars Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both of them bound for the NFL. The Tigers defeated Iowa 21-14 that day, but all three scores came on the ground. Beckham and Landry combined for four catches and 56 yards.
“I think I did well, just as a freshman,” King said of that game. “But I’m looking to do better as a senior this year in the same bowl game.”
King has become one of the nation’s top cornerbacks since his first Outback Bowl. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as a junior and then decided to put the NFL on hold to earn his college degree and spend another fall with his Hawkeye teammates. He took out an insurance policy in case he got injured and then never gave it another thought.
King earned second-team Associated Press All-American honors as a senior, usually shutting down a quarter of the field as opposing teams hesitated to look his way. His interception total declined from eight as a junior to two this year, but no one questions his value to the Hawkeyes.
That is especially true heading into the Outback Bowl. Injuries to Greg Mabin and Manny Rugamba have left the Hawkeyes with three cornerbacks. If King had decided to check out early, to put his pro future ahead of his college present, how would Iowa contend with a Florida passing attack that averages 215 yards per game?
“The few, the proud, the three,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has nicknamed his cornerbacks, which include sophomore Josh Jackson and redshirt freshman Michael Ojemudia, neither of whom has started a college game. “You just kind of hope nothing happens, nothing dramatic between now and whenever the game ends on the 2nd.”
After that, King will concentrate on the NFL.
He said he’s already interviewing agents. He plans to play in the Jan. 28 Senior Bowl, a chance to test himself against the likes of Oklahoma star receiver Dede Westbrook and, perhaps, snare an interception off Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard. King said he is paying no attention to mock drafts, some of which list him as a first- or second-round pick.
“I feel like it’s going to be a great experience. Every little kid that’s played football had that dream to go on to the next level,” King said of the draft.
“I’m really just focused on this last game and getting this win for our team.”
Whatever football holds, King claimed he’s already experienced his greatest moment, graduating from Iowa in 3 ½ years to become the first member of his family to earn a diploma. He has a double-major in African-American studies and broadcast journalism and has a long-range goal of being a football analyst on ESPN.
King was able to celebrate his accomplishment Saturday with his mother, Yvette Powell — as always — in the crowd cheering him on.
King went to a military surplus store to get some gold shoes for the occasion.
“I think it was better than scoring a touchdown in a game,” King said of the ceremony. “Whenever you walk across a stage and graduate, that’s bigger than winning an award, honestly. That’s something that no one can take from you.
“You earned that, being here for those years.”
The NFL has waited a year for Desmond King, college graduate. It can wait one more game.