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

A final huzzah for King

Iowa defensive back Desmond King catches a punt return during the Iowa-Rutgers game at High Point Solution Stadium at Piscataway on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. The Hawkeyes defeated the Knights, 14-7. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

TAMPA, Fla. — Desmond King remembers the first time he returned a kick for a touchdown.

He says he was around 10, he was playing football in the little leagues, and it was a playoff game. If his memory serves him correctly, it was somewhere in the fourth quarter, and there wasn’t a whole lot of time left.

King called it a “game changer” and said the return pretty much decided the contest. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to discover has has made plays such as that since he was very young.

He’s basically a human ball of energy, constantly where he needs to be and doing things only a truly special athlete can do. It doesn’t matter if he’s shutting down a wide receiver on defense or picking his way through flying bodies on a return — he delivers moments nearly impossible to forget.

But there’s one thing that has escaped him at Iowa, one thing that he’s always wanted, and it seems to frustrate him that he hasn’t gotten — a kick or punt return catching the Big Kahuna.

“I feel like I get closer and closer each week,” King said before the Outback Bowl. “Hopefully, praying to God, I can break one in this game.”

Unofficially, King has the third-most return yards (combined kick and punt) in Iowa history, with 1,874. He trails only Tim Dwight (2,192) and Khalil Hill (2,065) in career return yardage.

Not bad for a guy who’s only had a chance to return kicks for two seasons. Hill had three seasons as the primary return man, and Dwight had all four. What King has done is all the more impressive when one considers that he’s not been able to take one all the way back — those extra yards on 99-yard returns do add up.

Currently, King averages 9.80 yards per punt return and 27.20 on kick returns; those marks rank 22nd and 13th in the nation. Not so shabby.

That he was so talented as a returner makes some degree of sense. He’s taken three interceptions back for touchdowns in his Iowa career and was clearly a gifted offensive player in high school.

King lobbied the coaches for a chance to return kicks, and that didn’t take much persuading.

“His ability to see and his quickness to find the right hole, we decided, Hey, this kid at least deserves a tryout,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “Needless to say, he’s done very well for us.”

It sometimes seems as though special teams are talked about more in relation to Iowa than anywhere else in the nation. That probably isn’t true, of course, but there certainly is an obsession with punters, kickers, and all the other small parts of the game that makes head coach Kirk Ferentz’s teams tick.

There’s a reason for this, of course. Ferentz very strongly believes in playing the field-position game and understands the value in having players who can flip the field. Iowa’s upset win over Michigan encapsulated this mindset perfectly.

Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi had perhaps his best game as a Hawkeye, dropping punts near the Wolverines’ end zone on a regular basis. But King’s punt return late in the game (along with a timely penalty) kick-started the game-winning drive.

“If you go back to us playing well down the stretch, special teams are a big, big part of that,” Ferentz said. “The impact it’s had on field position has been really big.”

A similar story played out against Pittsburgh last season. A nice return with around a minute left gave quarterback C.J. Beathard and the offense just enough time to set up a 57-yard Marshall Koehn field goal.

Time after time, King blazes down the field, setting his team up at the risk to his own body. There have been times when he has returned kicks this year in which he has taken some absolutely nasty hits. But each time, he pops right back up, usually quite fired up, normally looking like he’s yelling something.

Perhaps against Florida, he’ll do the same thing as he crosses the goal line.

Follow @JordyHansen for Iowa football news, updates and analysis.

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