The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The King returns

Alyssa Hitchcock
Iowa defensive back Desmond King punt returns the ball during the Cy-Hawk Series game against Iowa State in Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa on Sept. 12, 2015. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cyclones, 31-17. (The Daily Iowan/ Alyssa Hitchcock)

For almost all of the Iowa football team, the 2015 season ended when the Sun set somewhere over the Pacific Ocean and Stanford was crowned Rose Bowl champion.

However, for Desmond King, his 2015 season wrapped up about a month later in February, when he traveled to Oklahoma City to accept the Jim Thorpe Award, handed out annually to the nation’s top defensive back.

“It means a lot to me, especially just being up there with one of the greats and especially with [Nile Kinnick’s name] being our stadium,” King said after tying the Heisman Trophy winner’s record against Indiana. “It’s a privilege to be up there and have that next to my name.”

He earned the award by tying the school record for interceptions set by Kinnick.

King lived up to his name in the biggest games of Iowa’s season; picking off two passes each in games versus Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.

Zoom back now to that almost surreal first day of January, in the stadium that has haunted Iowa football teams so many times before.

King, already one of the most decorated players in Iowa’s history, had a decision.

The Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum Award winner, the 24th consensus first team All-American in Iowa history, could choose to forgo his senior season as a Hawkeye and enter the NFL draft or return to Iowa City for one more season as a Hawkeye.

King had won the two awards over players who were on every NFL big board.

Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Ramsey, both projected top-15 picks on April 28, both took a back seat to King during awards season, and King had shown up on plenty of first-round mock drafts.

But the bond King had made with his brothers in Kinnick Stadium led him to decide Jan. 4 to return for his senior year.

Zoom forward three months, as King and the 2016 Hawkeyes are a little more than halfway done with spring practice.

He’s back in Iowa City and has not looked back to Jan. 4 once.

“I have no regrets in making my decision,” King said. “I believe it placed me in a better position for myself and my family and to help out my team even more.

“It was a very challenging [decision] … I just felt like I couldn’t leave the guys that I came here with and the brotherly bond that I have with all the players. I didn’t want to give that up.”

King will return for his final go-around with the Hawkeyes with higher expectations than ever.

He will now play every home game with his banner hanging from the outer walls of Kinnick, as every other consensus All-American has been honored before him.

The star cornerback acknowledged it brings a level of expectation he has not seen before.

After all, if he repeats as a consensus All-American, it won’t just be a banner hanging for people to see as they walk up to the stadium. His name will be permanently etched next to the likes of Kinnick, Randy Duncan, Larry Station, and few other immortal Hawkeyes.

“It brings a lot [of expectations],” King said. “But at the same time, you just have to stay humble, and remain focused, and not get complacent with yourself, because there’s always room for improvement.”

“Room for improvement” is maybe the most used cliché in football, but it seems to be one King has taken to heart this off-season.

The senior fielded questions for roughly 10 minutes after the Hawkeyes’ annual spring practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines April 8 and kept coming back to it.

It seems “room for improvement” could better be used on other players; King was scouted as a top-10 player against both the run and the pass last year by Jeff Dooley of Pro Football Focus, as well as averaging more than 14 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kick return.

As much as anything else, King has shifted focus to making those around him better.

“There’s always room for improvement, so [I’m working on] pretty much all the same things,” King said. “I’m trying to perfect my craft, my technique, the communication in the back, and helping out the younger guys is pretty much my main focus this year.”

King was dynamic with the ball in his hands last season.

The punt and kick returns were electric. Then there were the interceptions. King tallied 118 interception-return yards, 15th-best in the nation, with 88 of those coming against Maryland for a touchdown.

Considering King won’t get nearly as many balls thrown or kicked his way this year, is the logical step to get the ball in his hands to get him snaps on offense?

Head coach Kirk Ferentz did not shoot down the idea at his first spring press conference.

“I haven’t thought about that,” Ferentz said on March 22. “We’ll have to take that to the drawing board.”

One of King’s elders, however, apparently nipped the idea in the bud.

“My mom, she kind of gave me some words of wisdom [about playing offense],” King said. “I’m not going to say what she said, but it wasn’t pretty. So I’m going to leave that out of there.”

Too bad. The Kinnick-King comparisons will stick solely to interceptions.

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