Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isnt counting on the receiver coming back.
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Derrick Willies is no longer a member of the Iowa football program.
That much is certain.
The reasons why a redshirt freshman receiver would depart in late October, with five games remaining, are a little vague.
Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday during his weekly press conference that Willies left to be closer to his father, who is dealing with health issues.
None of that was mentioned, however, in a farewell message posted on an Instagram account credited to Willies: "It's been real, Iowa, things are just moving on to a different chapter in the story..."
It was punctuated with two fingers making a peace sign.
Speculation in the Twitter-sphere quickly centered on Willies' limited playing time.
The former Rock Island (Ill.) High School star appeared in five games this fall, catching four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
"I think that was maybe one of the things," quarterback C.J. Beathard said. "I guess he wasn't getting the reps he wanted to get, and that was maybe one of the reasons.
"But there was a lot of stuff that went into it, I think."
Beathard, another Hawkeye competing for playing time, told reporters he talked with Willies on Monday night.
"Me and Willies were closer … than he was with any other quarterback," Beathard said. "We're friends. I'd say we're close."
Still, Willies' quitting was a surprise.
"Last night (Monday) I talked to him and I was like, 'Is it for sure? There's no chance of getting you back?' '' Beathard recalled. "He was pretty firm with his decision."
Ferentz said Willies never expressed dissatisfaction with his role on the team. The coach also left open the possibility of Willies returning.
"If he has a change of heart in the near future, that would be fine," Ferentz said. "But I'm not counting on it. It kind of came out of thin air last night.
"Derrick's had some health issues himself that have kept him off the field for a significant amount of time this year, but we'll see how it goes. He's a young person, and we'll certainly honor his wishes if he chooses to leave."
Coaches mostly communicated with Willies' guardian during the recruiting process. His father lives in Arizona.
"The guardian was, in effect, the parent at that point," Ferentz said. "Great people, very supportive people, and his high school coach is a great person too."
Ferentz spoke in general terms about the health of Willies' father.
"I think he's fine," Ferentz said. "He's got some issues that have been concerning, and my understanding is the prognosis is good. So that's just something that's important to Derrick at this point."
Willies burst onto the scene during spring practices, making several highlights during scrimmages.
Fans envisioned a bright future until Willies decided to take a different route.
"I don't agree with him leaving in mid-season like that," Beathard said. "He's got to do what he's got to do. I like him. We're friends. So I'm not disappointed in him."