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

‘I was waiting for my number to be called:’ Iowa backup defensive back Deshaun Lee confident in role heading into to the Big Ten Championship

The redshirt first-year has stepped up and filled the big shoes left behind by the injury of Cooper DeJean.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa defensive back Deshaun Lee celebrates after the 2023 Wildcats Classic, a football game between Iowa and Northwestern at Wrigley Field in Chicago, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 10-7.

Many successful defensive backs in football subscribe to a “next play” mentality in which, no matter the outcome of the previous play, their focus is on the present. But “next play” has evolved into “next man up” for Iowa backup defensive back Deshaun Lee.

The 2023 Iowa football team has embraced that “next man up” mentality in a season plagued by injuries — especially with star defensive back Cooper DeJean, who will miss the rest of the season with a lower leg injury and join quarterback Cade McNamara and tight ends Luke Lachey and Erick All in plainclothes on the sideline.

Despite the adversity, the Hawkeyes finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and are headed back to the Big Ten Championship on Dec. 2 for the second time in three years.

And that perseverance can be attributed to Iowa’s backups, always ready to step up should the players before them go down — and none better than Lee, who has started at defensive back in DeJean’s stead in Iowa’s last two wins over Illinois and Nebraska, and the loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship.

​​“I have confidence in Deshaun — everyone does,” Iowa starting defensive back Jermari Harris said. “He’s a really good player, and he’s gone out and showed it.”

The redshirt first-year from Belleville, Michigan, has started four games this season, recording 23 total tackles and three pass deflections.

Lee started in the Hawkeyes’ first two games of the season in place of Harris, who was serving a suspension related to the NCAA sports gambling investigation.

“I was just ready for my number to be called,” Lee said following Iowa’s season-opening win against Utah State. “[I was] just preparing and putting in a lot of work so I’d be ready when my day finally comes.”

Lee was a three-star prospect coming out of Belleville High School, receiving offers from Power Five schools such as Kentucky, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh — all after being named first-team Michigan Dream Team as a defensive back and propelling his team to a state title his senior season.

Lee opted to commit to Iowa, though, as he grew up rooting for the Hawkeyes and made a personal connection with Iowa defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

“He pushes me to be the best person I can be,” Lee said. “You’re getting coached by one of the greatest, so everything he says you have to soak up like a sponge.”

Upon arriving in Iowa City, Lee saw no playing time in his first year with the team, instead using the year to acclimate to Parker’s defense and learn under veteran defensive backs in Harris and Riley Moss.

“We’re really close,” Lee said of the defensive back unit. “It’s a brotherhood, [and] we’re always joking around and having fun, but we know when it’s time to be locked in on the field.”

Coming into this season, Lee received praise from Parker for his performance during fall camp, which included Lee winning the Ball Hawk Award, which is given to the player who made the most plays in the secondary. He had two interceptions during the Kids’ Day at Kinnick practice.

“He got his hands on the ball every damn practice,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Deshaun’s done a really nice job. It took him a while to get his feet on the ground, but he’s really developed.”

It hasn’t been an easy journey, though, as Lee was burned by Nebraska wide receiver Jaylen Lloyd for a 66-yard touchdown in the Hawkeyes’ last-second win over the Cornhuskers on Nov. 24 — the longest play the Iowa defense has surrendered this season.

Having embraced his role as the next man up in the Iowa secondary, Lee’s next-play mentality is something like second nature. He aided the rest of the defense in allowing just three points in the second half and prevented Lloyd from another reception for the rest of the game.

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About the Contributors
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.