A year ago, Iowa football sent a standout individual performer to the College Football Awards and he came home a winner. A year later, Iowa football sent a standout individual performer to the College Football Awards and he again came home a winner. The difference? Last year Brandon Scherff's Outland Trophy win was an oasis of good news in the midst of a miserable finish to the season. This year Desmond King's Jim Thorpe Award win is another bit of deserved good news after one of the most magical and magnificent seasons in the history of Iowa football.
King becomes Iowa's first-ever winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, awarded annually to the nation's top defensive back. He earned the award for emerging as perhaps the finest cornerback of the Kirk Ferentz Era -- certainly the most decorated. That King became a starter as a true freshman was impressive, but what he's done since then has been even more impressive. He's been a rock for the Iowa defense since he became a starter, steadily improving his craft year after year. This year he made a big splash on the scene by leading the defense for the 12-0 Iowa Hawkeyes and snatching eight interceptions, good for 2nd-best in the nation (behind Shawun Lurry of Northern Illinois, who had nine interceptions this year). Those interceptions were vital to Iowa's 12-0 regular season, too.
1) vs. Iowa State -- King's interception of Sam Richardson in the fourth quarter effectively iced the game for Iowa; they had a 24-17 lead at the time -- 2 plays and 25 yards after King's pick, Iowa led 31-17 and the celebration was fully on.
2) vs. Pittsburgh -- King made a leaping interception on the sideline to set Iowa up near midfield; Iowa scored a field goal to go up 3-0 eight plays later.
3) vs. Pittsburgh -- King's second pick against Pitt was even more vital, as his diving interception in the end zone prevented Pitt from putting any points on the board, which was crucial in a game as tight as this one.
4) vs. Wisconsin -- This game was a defensive slugfest and every stop mattered -- King's interceptionwas one of the flashier stops of the game for the Iowa defense.
5) vs. Wisconsin -- See above.
6) vs. Northwestern -- Clayton Thorson challenged Desmond King deep in Northwestern's own territory; this was a bad idea. It led to an Iowa field goal that put Iowa up 3-0.
7) vs. Maryland -- This was probably King's most sensational snatch of the season, as he perfectly read the play, jumped the Maryland route, and then took the intended screen pass 88 yards the other way for a touchdown (his only one of the season).
8) vs. Indiana -- King's final interception of the season (so far), an acrobatic diving catch in the fourth quarter that gave Iowa a bit more breathing room after taking a 35-20 lead.
Even when King didn't get an interception, he frequently got his hands on the ball on passes thrown his way -- he also had 12 passes broken up and his 20 total passes defended ranked among the best in the nation. King was also a stout presence in run defense and many of his 67 tackles (fifth on the team) came as he helped shut down the edge to opposing running backs. He was a tremendous presence in Iowa's defensive backfield all season long and it was an absolute joy to watch him work.
King is also just a junior, so he could return to Iowa next season to defend his Thorpe crown. Of course, after a season like this, no one could fault him one bit for testing the NFL Draft waters and, indeed, that's been the expectation among Iowa fans (and pundits) for a while. According to ESPN's Joe Schad, though, King himself may not be leaning in that direction
Iowa DB Desmond King told me he is leaning toward retuning for his senior season— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 9, 2015
That's certainly interesting news, but we're definitely in wait and see mode here. King will assess his options after the Rose Bowl on January 1; what he says about staying or going after that game will be far more important than what he says now.
But that's a discussion for another time. Today let's just celebrate King and his excellence. He's Iowa first-ever Thorpe Award winner and the first Iowa player to ever win a purely defensive award. Alex Karras won the Outland Trophy in 1957 as a defensive tackle; that award is technically for "the best interior lineman in the country" and used to go to defensive players fairly often.
Here's what King had to say after winning the Jim Thorpe Award tonight:
H/T to Hawk Central's Chad Leistikow, whose very good article about King's win provided some background for this post. Give it a read.