IOWA CITY, Iowa — Judging Iowa cornerback Desmond King for postseason honors won’t be easy.
King might be the first Hawkeyes player to be considered for an All-America team simply because he stepped on the field every week.
Teams have avoided throwing anywhere near King, the reigning Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. King’s numbers have suffered as a result, but Iowa ranks 13th nationally in opponent completion percentage at 51.3.
King and the Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) host No. 10 Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2) on Saturday.
“He’s a durable player. Most of the really great players that have played here, that’s one trait that … I think is a real key to greatness,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “He’s playing well on defense … and he’s been doing an extraordinary job on special teams.”
Despite the fact that opponents have rarely given King a chance to prove himself on defense in 2016, he’s still wrapping up one of the great careers in school history.
King earned a starting spot just two games into his career and never gave it up. As a sophomore in 2014, King earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors while picking off three passes, and last season he emerged as one of the nation’s best defenders. King had eight interceptions, earned consensus All-America honors and was named one of five finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.
That seemed like a resume of a player ready to test the NFL Draft. But King, to the pleasant surprise of the coaching staff, decided he needed another year of college ball.
“For me, personally, I had a lot to work on. A lot to improve on, and a lot of maturing as well,” said King, who has one interception this season.
Part of the reason the 5-foot-11 King wasn’t considered a lock to be a first-round draft pick was his size. But relying on his instincts and relentless film study, King has found a way to stand out.
He is the go-to return man for the Hawkeyes this season. He’s 12th nationally with 28.6 yards per kickoff return — without the benefit of a long touchdown to pad that total — and 33rd with 9.7 yards on punt returns.
“It helps me in both ways. It’s helping me here because I’m helping my team, and it’s helping me for the next level,” King said.
Despite not scoring a touchdown through six games, King had seemed like he was on the verge of making a big play since September.
Last week, Purdue was forced to throw King’s way late in the fourth quarter — and King was finally able to show off. King jumped a deep route near the sidelines and raced for a 41-yard touchdown that sealed Iowa’s 49-35 win over the Boilermakers .
The moment was a rare opportunity for King to remind everyone what can happen when they test him.
“When the ball’s not thrown your way, our coaching staff is still looking at how you are playing your guy, was your technique right, things like that,” King said. “You’ve just got to play your best and be ready.”