For the last four years, there may not have been a more exciting player in Iowa City than Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, or as he is more affectionately known by Iowa fans, “DJK”. DJK led the Hawkeyes in receiving every year he was with the squad, and finished his career with 2,616 yards on 173 receptions, and capped off a four year stint with the Hawkeyes with a career high ten touchdowns, catching 17 in all four years with Iowa.
The playmaker also had 59 kick returns for 1,551 yards and a touchdown in each of the last two seasons. Despite a suspension in Iowa’s final game against Missouri, DJK had an outstanding four years with the Hawkeyes, and as he put it, he “left it all on the field.”
NFL Mocks had the opportunity to sit down with the former Iowa star, and being that my father is an Iowa alum and I was born in the lovely state, I have black and yellow running through my veins. It was truly an honor to talk to one of the greatest players in school history.
I first asked Derrell to take us through a “day in the life” as he prepares for the 2011 NFL Draft:
Right now, it’s kind of a strict routine I have created to stay focused. The work week is Monday through Saturday, and we have a 10 AM workout for two to three hours, after which there is a recovery shake, massage or whirlpool treatment, then I rest until 3 PM, train at 4 PM for another two-and-a-half hours. We do upper body or speed workout and ball skill drills on the field. Late at night, we have another recovery session that could include yoga, or a deep tissue massage.
Johnson-Koulianos is much more highly rated by NFL Mocks than many other sites. A lot of that is due to the fact that I have been able to see him play over the last four years, and have seen every single game he has been part of, and I know that he can and will have a huge impact at the next level. I asked DJK to give himself a scouting report:
Knowing myself and what I’ve been able to accomplish, seeing myself grow, I think that I’m a quick learner. You can assign me to any role on the field and I will get it done. When it comes to third downs or the “money down” as I like to call it, that’s what I live for. I strive for pressure situations. A lot of guys do not want to take that pressure.
I would also say–my ability to get open. People might not consider me the fastest, but I understand coverages, and I know how to find holes in coverages. I am smart, tough, and not afraid to compete.
Then came the dreaded question about DJK’s recent legal issues. He knew it was only a matter of time before the question popped up, but the answer he gave may have been the best of the day:
Me as a person–I had nothing and suddenly had everything. I felt I had other success on the field, my parents adopted me, and I felt a responsibility to give everything I have back to someone–whoever it was. I felt if I had it, there was something I could provide for them. For a long time, I was just unable to say “no”. For a long time, I wanted to be the guy who was volunteering, paying for drinks at the bar, watching film with Ricky (Stanzi) every night–just not idealistic.
Toward the end of my career, I had let some people in my life that weren’t benefiting me in a positive way. The lesson learned for me was that, at some point, I would have to say “no” whether for good or for bad. It’s an experience that won’t define me, and I have devoted 110 percent to show that I deserve a second chance. Whoever takes a chance on me is going to get a great talent and an even better person.
After the issues in early December, there was a great outreach from the Iowa fans as a whole. It is truly a testament to the kind of talent DJK was, and what the Iowa community and fan base thought of him as a person. DJK said that the positive outreach from Iowa fans did not surprise him:
I’m not surprised at all, but it’s overwhelming. It’s almost like just another chapter in my book that I’m soon to be writing. For a long time, I have embraced the people of the town (Iowa City). I demonstrated on the field that I was giving it my all, going balls to the wall, and even when the economy was hurting, the fans still sold out the stadium (Nile Kinnick Stadium). I kind of embarrassed Hawk Nation in December, so to see how the fans responded was a surreal feeling. It was a defining moment of what it means to be part of Iowa football. The incident proves that for younger kids looking to choose a school, they are a fan base that is going to have your back. If you happen to fall and create some bad media for yourself, they will be there with you because they understand that people make mistakes.
DJK was snubbed by the NFL Scouting Combine, and they apparently had told him that even before the legal issues he was not going to receive an invitation to the prestigious underwear olympics, but we all know that’s not how it is. The receiver was elated when he received an invitation to the NFLPA game, formerly known as Texas vs. Nation, and he is grateful for the experience, and believes he made the most of it:
Well, for one it was–considering my circumstances with the legal stuff it was an enormous opportunity for me to meet with scouts and show them who I was as a person. The perception was created by the media–you’re thinking, “This kid’s a thug, he doesn’t care about these things,” and that’s not true. At the practices and the game, I just did what I’ve done my whole life. I went out and played to the best of my ability. Even though I wore the Utah helmet, I represented Iowa through my actions and my heart. It was crazy throughout the week to see guys supporting me. T.J. Yates, the quarterback from North Carolina went to the coaches and told them, “We’ve got to get the ball to DJK,” and you had fans telling them to throw me the ball. In a week’s time I was able to build that reputation. They wanted to throw me the ball.
I asked DJK if there was a moment that stood out to him in his time at Iowa as a moment that really stands out to him:
I would have to say Penn State from 2008. I had seven catches and a touchdown, they were number three in the nation, and it’s just one of those games you dream of as a kid, one of those games you dream of being a part of.
Going into the 2010 season, Iowa had high expectations. They were not able to live up to the lofty expectations that were set out there by the fans and media, and Derrell attributed a lot of that to not translating the expectations into results.
You think about the 09′ season, winning the Orange Bowl a BCS Bowl game, we had a nucleus returning, we had guys who had been starting 3-4 years at so many different positions–as much as we talked about as a team that we weren’t going to pay attention to expectations, we certainly believed that we could. We just weren’t able to transition it all into results.
As the 2011 NFL Draft approaches, keep an eye out for DJK. He might not be the most highly rated receiver in the pre-draft process, but having watched him over the last four years, I can tell you that he is going to make an impact at the next level. I have likened him to a bigger version of Brandon Lloyd in that he is a big play receiver who might not be the fastest guy on the team, but he simply finds a way to get open, and he makes plays.
DJK will forever be one of the more beloved players in Iowa City, and like he said, whatever NFL team takes a chance on him is not only going to get a great player, but an even better person. His versatility on the field will light up the scoreboard, and he’s got a smile that will light up a room. He is going to be the kind of player that a coach will love to have in the locker room, the weight room, and he’s going to work his butt off to be the best he can be on the field.