Defensive back Cooper DeJean continues run of dominance in Iowa’s 27-10 win over Rutgers

DeJean has intercepted a pass in each of his last three games. He registered a 45-yard pick six against the Scarlet Knight Saturday night.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean runs the ball back for a pick-six during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 27-10. DeJean’s pick-six was Iowa’s first touchdown of the game.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Kirk Ferentz has never been afraid to fill his roster with players that hail from small high schools. From Super Bowl-winning tight end Dallas Clark to All-Pro offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, Iowa football’s head coach has embraced prep institutions with fewer than 1,000 enrolled students.

Ferentz’s willingness to recruit athletes from smaller schools has paid off again this season. Defensive back Cooper DeJean, who went to Odebolt Arthur Battle Creek Ida Grove High School (OABCIG), has intercepted a pass in each of Iowa’s last three games.

“Athletes are athletes and good players are good players,” Ferentz said Saturday. “We’ve had plenty of guys from small towns.”

Perhaps the most impressive interception of DeJean’s 2022 campaign came during Iowa’s 27-10 win over Rutgers Saturday night at SHI Stadium. With 5:26 remaining in the first quarter, DeJean corralled one of Scarlet Knight quarterback Evan Simon’s errant passes near the 50-yard line. After catching the ball over his shoulder like a wide receiver, DeJean raced 45 yards into the end zone for Iowa’s first touchdown of the game. Counting DeJean’s, Iowa has had a pick six in each of its last 15 seasons.

“I caught the ball on one hash, so I knew everybody would come to that side, all the linemen and stuff like that,” DeJean said. “I didn’t want to get in there with those big boys. So, I just cut back to the field and saw there was a lot of grass over there, and I just took it into the end zone.”

DeJean’s athleticism, ball skills, and vision were evident throughout his pick six. In high school, he played both defensive back and quarterback. Postgame, DeJean admitted that the reps he saw on offense have helped him excel on the defensive side of the ball as a Hawkeye.

“I mean, maybe [it helped me] a little bit,” DeJean said. “Especially playing quarterback, having the ball in my hands every single play. So, yeah, I think it helps a lot.”

DeJean was a four-sport athlete in high school, lettering in basketball, football, track and field, and baseball. Despite the athletic prowess he showed, the Odebolt, Iowa, product wasn’t highly recruited out of a high school with fewer than 400 students.

“The most surprising thing about Cooper, as far as I know, he really wasn’t offered a scholarship by anybody,” Ferentz said. “When you watch what he does, he just plays good football. He’s flexible in terms of position … I’m not saying it’s easy, but he makes it look easy.”

During the Hawkeyes’ first three games of the season, DeJean played cash — a specialized position in Iowa’s scheme. The Hawkeyes’ cash can function as a linebacker or a defensive back — dropping down by the linebackers against the run or hedging up by the DBs to defend the pass.

DeJean hasn’t been a listed starter at cash on any of the four depth charts Iowa Athletics has released this season. The Hawkeyes’ preseason No. 1 at cash was junior Jestin Jacobs, who was injured during Iowa’s 7-3 win over South Dakota State Week 1. Jacobs played a limited number of snaps against Rutgers.

With Jacobs and senior Logan Klemp splitting time at cash Saturday, DeJean moved to cornerback. He started in place of senior Terry Roberts, who went through pregame warmups but was scratched before the contest’s opening kick.

“He looks like it’s pretty fluid for him, athletically,” Ferentz said of DeJean’s versatility. “But the mental part, there’s a lot that goes into playing any position. He [plays] a couple [positions] and does it well at a really young age. It’s a real credit to him.

“You know, some guys are just a little bit more flexible that way than others. I don’t know what I would attribute it to.”

DeJean wasn’t comfortable playing multiple positions when he joined the Iowa program. During his first season, most of the action he saw was on special teams. DeJean also got limited work in at corner in 2021.

“I mean, I got a few reps on defense last year, so I kinda got a feel for it,” DeJean said. “Then, starting my first game this year, I was pretty nervous going into it … But I’ve started to get more and more comfortable with different techniques and things like that. As the season goes on, hopefully that’ll continue to happen.”

DeJean’s interception is one of five turnovers the Hawkeyes forced against the Scarlet Knights. He wasn’t the only Hawkeye defender to score, either.

Senior strong safety Kaevon Merriweather scooped up a fumble forced by junior Sebastian Castro and ran it into the Scarlet Knights’ end zone for a touchdown with 8:28 remaining in the second quarter.

Iowa has forced 11 turnovers this season. But no matter how much success DeJean and his teammates have, Ferentz said the sophomore’s demeanor never changes.

“He’s the same guy every day,” Ferentz said. “He was the same way last year … He’s just one of those guys. He’s really grounded. He’s just really steady and very humble. You know, a lot of the really good players I’ve been around, that seems to be one of the trademarks. You know, they’re really humble guys. And you know, I think he’s probably thinking about what he can do to get better.”