Desmond King could’ve been in a five-star hotel Friday night, prepping for his next interview with an NFL franchise with the knowledge that a seven-figure signing bonus was only a few weeks away.
Instead, he was running around in cold, windy conditions at a high school stadium with 100 or so of his closest friends.
Returning to play football at Iowa for his senior season wasn’t an easy decision, but the nation’s top cornerback in 2015 seems happy to still be here, on track to get his college degree.
In his first interview with Iowa media since the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl, King said “it was the bond I have with my teammates here” that ultimately brought him back. Some NFL Draft projections had him going as a late first-round choice. King didn't expand on the evaluation he received in late December, but said it was favorable.
That's in the past now. The present is this: He and C.J. Beathard share the cover of Iowa’s 2016 spring media guide.
King wore a cowboy hat and boots earlier this year at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It’s their team this year, so it’s fitting that King conferred with the all-Big Ten Conference quarterback about what he called a tough decision.
“(Teammates) gave me my space, but I honestly called C.J. myself and talked to him about it,” King said. “He just said whatever my decision is, he hopes it’s the best one for me. Once he found out I came back, he was very, very happy.”
It’ll be difficult for King to repeat, let alone beat, what he did a year ago. He intercepted eight passes, all in Iowa’s first nine games, in leading a revived Hawkeye program to a record-setting 12-0 regular season and a spot in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl.
He won the Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum awards, presented to the nation’s top defensive back. He was a consensus all-American, only the second Hawkeye defender in Kirk Ferentz’s 17 years to achieve such status – joining defensive end Adrian Clayborn in 2010.
King’s offseason awards tour took him to Atlanta, Columbus and Oklahoma City.
As the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award winner, he’s got a Rolex watch worth five figures waiting for him when his amateur status expires.
How to top that?
“There’s a better chance I can have another (Rolex) this year coming up,” King said. “That’s the goal, to be perfect at everything I do and see what happens.”
Perfection came from King’s lips a few times after Friday’s open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. He said he needs to work on “everything … to make sure it’s all perfect, to make sure it’s game-ready. Because you have to practice how you want to play.”
That’s the type of language Ferentz likes to hear from his senior leaders. He has said King needs to elevate his game and leadership within the bond-building Iowa Football Performance Center.
“It’s like all of our experienced guys. We’re not going to have a good football team if those guys don’t play better than they did a year ago,” Ferentz said Friday night. “I said back in January, it may not show up statistically, but he can still lead better. He can still play with more precision. Every player can. That’s been his attitude. He’s working hard, doing a good job.”
Leadership is where Iowa needs King the most in 2016.
It's unrealistic to think he'll match the eight interceptions of last season, which he would need to break the career school record of 18 shared by Nile Kinnick and Devon Mitchell. Teams probably won't throw to his side of the field that much.
But if he can be the vocal captain of the secondary like safety Jordan Lomax was a year ago, the Hawkeye defense will be that much closer to ... well, perfection.
King seems to be off to a good start in embracing his dual role as a lock-down corner and locker-room leader.
“We have younger guys in the back end like Josh Jackson and Michael Ojemudia … that need to learn a little bit more,” said King, who will be flanked at the other corner spot by third-year senior starter Greg Mabin. “Because once this year’s over, they’re the next two guys. They need to learn and follow the same route as the seniors.”