CLOSE

Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia assesses the performances of freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss. Hear what he said: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker was conferring with star cornerback Desmond King three years ago.

The subject was this new safety the Hawkeyes had brought in — Michael Ojemudia.

“They said: ‘He’s got long arms. He can move a little bit. So I think he can be a good corner.’ They switched me,” Ojemudia recalled Tuesday.

Ojemudia had been a hard-hitting safety/linebacker hybrid at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan. That’s all he wanted to do at Iowa. It took him all of his rookie season here, which he spent redshirting, to learn to embrace this new position. To get used to running backwards on the boundary instead of headlong toward a ball-carrier in the middle of the field.

“I was doubting whether I even wanted to be here, to be honest,” Ojemudia said. “I didn’t really like the position. … I always wanted to be physical and just jam everybody.

“But you’ve got to run sometimes.”

Ojemudia is a junior starter at cornerback for Iowa now, although his ability to run has been limited in recent weeks by a hamstring injury. He is close to 100 percent, he said, but his starting status for Saturday’s game at Indiana (11 a.m., ESPN2) is in doubt.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said that true freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss are likely to get their second consecutive starts at cornerback, although Ojemudia and sophomore Matt Hankins (wrist injury) are expected to be available. Ojemudia did see snaps in nickel packages in last week’s win at Minnesota. He said all four cornerbacks have been splitting reps in practice this week and he’s not sure who is actually going to start.

That probably won’t be revealed until Saturday morning in Bloomington, Indiana.

CLOSE

Iowa safety Jake Gervase roomed with freshman starter Riley Moss before the Minnesota game. What did he say to him? Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

But what is known is that long arms are a desired trait for Hawkeye corners these days. It’s what got Ojemudia, at 6-foot-1, noticed in the first place. Brents, the tallest Iowa defensive back at 6-2, is the prototype in that department.

Long arms allow cornerbacks to jam wide receivers at the line of scrimmage while also maintaining enough separation to turn and cover them in their pass route.

“You’re not going to be able to run stride for stride with every receiver,” Ojemudia said.

Brents, an Indianapolis native returning home this weekend, got his first career interception last week. He wasn’t picked on nearly as much as the 6-foot Moss, who also collected a pair of picks. Safety Geno Stone speculated that the Gophers avoided Brents because he was the longer of the two Iowa corners.

“He can be three yards off you and still jam you and get hands on you when you’re playing ‘cover-2,’” safety Amani Hooker said of Brents.

“It gives us time on the back end to read our run keys and then, if it is pass, he has (his receiver) jammed up so we can help out someone else.”

Moss has been a standout on special teams since he arrived at Iowa this summer. He initially was part of the safety group, but moved to cornerback to earn his first Hawkeye start. Hawkeye coaches have gone out of their way to praise him at every turn the past two months.

“He doesn't always know what he's doing, but he runs around hard and he really plays with energy, and he's deceptively fast,” Ferentz said of Moss. “There's a lot of good things to work with there.”

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Hankins, meanwhile, is Iowa’s steadiest cornerback. He had a large cast on his left hand and forearm at the Minnesota game and didn’t play. Ojemudia called it a “club,” and noted that Hankins probably couldn’t make an interception while wearing it. Ferentz said the cumbersome piece of unwanted equipment would be scaled back this week. The Hawkeyes could use Hankins, but are pleased to have three other options.

The freshmen have already earned the trust of teammates like senior defensive end Parker Hesse.

“They play hard,” Hesse said. “That’s what I respect in someone and that’s someone who makes it fun to play with. Both of those guys are heads-up football players for not having much experience.”

Ojemudia is the elder statesman of the cornerback group, the one who keeps things loose off the field while trying to keep the younger players locked in while football is being played. He offered some words of experience to Moss after Minnesota got to him for a couple of first-half completions and a touchdown last Saturday. His advice: “Keep fighting.”

“If you don’t learn from it the first time, then it’s going to haunt you forever,” Ojemudia said. “I feel like you’ve got to learn it faster than any other position because you’re going to get beat sometimes. But you’ve always got to respond.”

Ojemudia said he knew cornerback was the position for him in the second game of his redshirt freshman season. That was at home against Iowa State, and he had prepared that week as if he were going to be the starter. Seniors Desmond King and Greg Mabin were ahead of him on the depth chart, and he was fighting with Josh Jackson and Manny Rugamba to at least be part of the nickel schemes.

Ojemudia broke up a pass late in that Hawkeye blowout win that he still remembers vividly.

“It was in the garbage time, but I made a play,” Ojemudia said.

“It was easy. It was on the backside. He just ran a curl route and I just stuck my hand in there.  I was hyped after that. I did need that.”

There’s been no looking back for Ojemudia. He’s a mentor to a new crop of long-armed cornerbacks now.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE