Leistikow: A powerful testimony from Desmond King's mother
To say that Desmond King has overcome adversity since he was born would be short-changing the timeline.
He’s been beating the odds since before he was born.
His mother, Yvette Powell, tells the story of being roughly four to five months pregnant with her third son and sitting in a Detroit hospital. The doctor told her crippling news, that she was showing symptoms of having a miscarriage.
She began to cry.
“I didn’t want to lose my baby,” she says now.
Powell remembers the young doctor, at that moment, saying he normally didn’t do this but telling her: “I want to pray for you and your unborn child.”
“And he did,” she recalls. “And I went home and did what he told me to do — bed rest. And (on Dec. 14, 1994), I had an 8-pound, 15½-ounce baby boy.”
That boy was Desmond King, who would start playing football at age 5. As a high school senior, he would become a record-setting player but also deal with the murder of one of his older brothers. A few months later, he accepted the only Power Five scholarship offer to come his way, from Iowa.
In four seasons in Iowa City, he would become one of the Hawkeyes’ all-time great players, setting a school record for career starts (51) while starring as a two-time all-American — including being named the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top cornerback — and an electric kick returner.
And now, he’s mere hours away from being drafted by an NFL team.
“I really want to cry, but I’m trying not to,” says Powell, who on Wednesday began her trek from Detroit to Iowa City to be with her son as the next step of his professional future is determined. “It’s right up there with graduation level, watching my son’s dreams come true in front of my eyes. I thank God that I’m here, able to witness this.”
King’s mom was a big reason he returned to school for his senior season, bypassing potentially millions of dollars if he was to be a first-round NFL Draft selection as some projected. The mother-son conversation after the Rose Bowl took less than five minutes.
King told her he wanted to be the first in his family to graduate from college. And he did, in 3½ years, with degrees in mass communications and African-American studies.
“I told him, ‘Now, you are grown. You’re able to live your life. You did everything your momma asked since you were 5 years old,'” says Powell, who laments never finishing college after she became pregnant at age 19 with the first of her four sons. “'My job is done. Thank you.’”
For King, a job is next. But with whom?
The NFL Draft begins with Thursday’s first round. On Friday are the second and third rounds. He’s expected to be taken by Friday, at the latest.
As a courtesy, Iowa has provided King the use of the presidential suite in the Kinnick Stadium press box to watch the draft. A large party Powell estimates at about 25 will join King and his mother — family members, his high school coach and childhood friends among them.
Powell has noticed her son’s name trickling down the draft boards — having gone from a projected first-rounder to a more likely a second- or third-rounder in what some are calling the deepest draft ever for defensive backs. She doesn't look at them anymore.
Steve Palazzollo, a senior analyst for Pro Football Focus, thinks King’s height at the NFL Combine (5-foot-10, 201 pounds) and uneven performance in man coverage at the Senior Bowl dinged his draft stock.
But he calls King an “unbelievable tackler” and notes: “I still think he’s one of the best zone corners in the draft.”
Palazzollo points to zone-coverage teams such as Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Miami and Pittsburgh as good corner fits. But with King’s ball skills (14 interceptions at Iowa) and physical nature (PFF had him missing only 11 tackles in the past three years), he could translate to safety.
“He’s a tremendous football player, tremendous young man,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz says. “It’s been very easy to talk to NFL people about him — his practice habits, all those types of things. My guess is he’ll find a good fit.”
Whether at corner or safety, it won’t matter.
You could argue King wasn’t ever supposed to be in the position to begin with.
“Wherever he goes,” Powell says, “it’ll be his blessing and his reward.”
Besides watching Desmond throw out the first pitch at Friday's Iowa baseball game and preparing her son’s favorite dinner — spaghetti with meat sauce and a big salad — there’s one more thing on Powell’s mind this week.
She wants to know the identity of the doctor that prayed with her in the summer of 1994. She’s tried to find out, but there’s no record of who saw her that day.
Powell estimates he would be in his 50s or 60s by now. She hopes he reads this column and understands what he did for her — and her NFL-bound son.
“I want to find that doctor and say, 'Thank you,'” Powell says, “and show him Desmond now.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.