Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz says defensive coordinator Phil Parker has one cornerback a year that he's secretly excited about. Who was this year's? Mark Emmert, email@example.com
Phil Parker has a nose for Detroit-area cornerbacks who have a nose for the football.
Iowa’s defensive coordinator was at it again this recruiting season, quietly keeping tabs on Daraun McKinney of River Rouge High School. McKinney intercepted three passes, returned four punts for touchdowns and found paydirt on another three kickoff returns.
Parker snuck up and watched McKinney during Iowa's bye week in late September and was impressed by what he saw. But McKinney, a three-star recruit, had orally committed to Northern Illinois in June.
On Wednesday, the lure of the Big Ten Conference and the Hawkeyes’ penchant for turning defensive backs into NFL prospects proved too strong. McKinney was a surprise late commit to Iowa, where he immediately draws comparisons to former Hawkeye star and current Los Angeles Charger Desmond King.
“Phil always has one a year that he thinks he's slick and all that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of his 20-year assistant. “He kept dropping (McKinney’s) name, so I figured, 'OK, that's his guy this year,' and it was. So just, you've got to let it run its course, and then finally the player surfaces. But we think he's a really good player, like his ball skills, his return ability.”
Six years ago, King was committed to Ball State before flipping late to Iowa. He started at cornerback as a true freshman, something that hadn’t been done at Iowa in 11 years. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as a junior and was second team all-American again as a senior. As a bonus, he was an expert kick returner.
This all sounds very familiar to Corey Parker, who coached McKinney at River Rouge the past two seasons.
“Both athletes are very, very explosive with the ball. Both athletes have a nose for the ball and find a way to get to it,” Parker said.
“They have the same stature (McKinney is 5-foot-11, 185 pounds). Wider-shouldered, muscular kids that are strong enough to play press man, but quick and agile enough to play off man as well.”
Last season, Parker sent safety Reggie Pearson off to Wisconsin. He questioned how much Pearson could contribute as a rookie in a physical league such as the Big Ten. Pearson played three games at safety for the Badgers this fall, making five tackles with a forced fumble against Michigan.
Parker thinks McKinney, who is enrolling at Iowa next month to get a head start on its well-regarded strength and conditioning program, could make an immediate impact for the Hawkeyes as well. Certainly, his prowess as a return specialist catches the eye. McKinney returned 23 kickoffs and punts for touchdowns in his high school career. He is reported to already have 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
“We’ll never take a guy just because he’s a good returner. But if you have somebody like Daraun, that’s obviously a plus,” Iowa recruiting director Tyler Barnes said.
“You see what Ihmir (Smith-Marsette) did for us this year in terms of his field position. The way we play the football game, having a guy that can impact a game like that is always huge. Hopefully he can continue it at this level.”
Parker said McKinney has the rare ability to elude the initial defender on his kick returns and then the burst of speed to break away from pursuers. Those skills should translate.
At cornerback, Corey Parker said: “Dauran possesses the ability to cover receivers that are larger than him without any help. Dauran possesses the ability to stop and start whenever he needs to or just flat-out flip his hips and run anytime anyone wants to run a vertical route against him. You’ve got to have some belief in yourself. You’ve got to believe in your abilities, and he owns that. I think it helps him cover the underneath routes well because he doesn’t really … believe that the guy in front of him is able to run past him.”
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The biggest issue for McKinney in the recruiting process was walking away from Northern Illinois, Parker said. He had come to view that coaching staff as family.
But McKinney was also impressed with Phil Parker. He was intrigued by the opportunities to volunteer at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Ultimately, he made the decision to become a Hawkeye.
“He’s a very, very loyal guy. That was probably the toughest piece for him to endure. He was recruited early by Northern Illinois and loved the program,” Corey Parker said.
“He’s not one of these archetype of teenagers that’s on social media ranting and raving about recruiting, saying ‘I’ve got 38 offers.’ He’s just a very humble kid. I’m excited to see how he develops under coach Phil Parker and in that strength program. Iowa got a good one.”