Iowa’s Desmond King can defy odds and contend for Heisman


Can last year’s Jim Thorpe award winner contend for the Heisman in 2016?

The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in all of college football. Whomever wins the award is considered the best player in all of college football.

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The first Heisman trophy was awarded in 1935. That means there has been a total of 79 Heisman winners throughout the college football history–former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin won it twice in a row. However, out of those 79 winners, only one was a primary defensive player: that being former Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson.

Woodson won the Heisman in 1997. That year, Woodson recorded 44 tackles, five tackles for loss, nine pass breakups and seven interceptions defensively. The Wolverines used Woodson on offense sometimes and he tallied 231 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Also, Woodson was the primary punt returner for Michigan. Out of the 33 returns, he scored on one of them.

Despite only one defensive player winning the Heisman, that doesn’t mean defensive players weren’t in the running. Ndamukong Suh, Hugh Green, Manti Te’o, and Tyrann Mathieu are among notable defenders who were finalists for the Trophy.

The odds are stacked against them, but can 2016 see a defensive player contend or maybe even win the Heisman Trophy?

Yes, it can. And the defensive player who will contend or maybe win the award is Iowa defensive back Desmond King. Last year, King had a breakout season en route to winning the Jim Thorpe award, given to the nation’s best defensive back.

The Detroit, Michigan native was one of the key pieces in Iowa’s run to the Big Ten Championship Game. He helped lead a Hawkeye defense that was No. 19 nationally in total defense and led a secondary that only allowed 53.4-percent passes attempted on them to be completed.

As a junior, King tallied 72 tackles for the Hawkeyes last season and matched Mathieu’s 2011 turnover output as he recorded eight interceptions. Probably King’s most memorable interception was an 88-yard pick six against Maryland in which he jumped a screen pass and escaped a cluster to put Iowa up 31-7.

Like Mathieu and Woodson, King functioned as the Hawkeyes’ main returnee on special teams. He returned 29 kickoffs for 708 yards, good for 24.4 yards per return average, and 17 punts for 241 yards, which gave him an average of 14.2 yards per return. However, unlike Mathieu and Woodson, King wasn’t as electrifying.

King only recorded one touchdown last year, the previously mentioned pick six against Maryland, while Mathieu and Woodson tallied two or more touchdowns on their way to New York City.

While adding a kickoff or punt return touchdown along with another pick six would undoubtedly give King that proverbial Heisman moment he would need to be in contention, playing for a national contender would help his case as well.

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Iowa is coming off the heels of its best season in school history. The Hawkeyes went undefeated during the regular season but fell short in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State and was dealt a pretty convincing defeat by the Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.

However, Iowa returns a lot of key pieces from last year’s team–quarterback C.J. Beathard, tight end George Kittle, linebacker Josey Jewell and other cornerback Greg Mabin–that will help boost the Hawkeyes’ chances to go back to the Big Ten title and maybe even make the College Football Playoffs in 2016.

With Iowa being a playoff contender certainly helps King’s case to contend for the Heisman, his steady improvement from year to year helps further boost his chances to win the award.

King really came onto the scene in Iowa City during his sophomore year. While he did play a lot his freshman season–he recorded 69 tackles that year–during his sophomore season, King tallied his first few interceptions of his college career.

In 2014, King recorded three interceptions for the Hawkeyes while chipping in 64 tackles. And in 2015, as mentioned already, King led the nation with eight interceptions. With that being said, his steady improvement from season to season could mean that 2016 may see more than eight King interceptions.

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With a leader like King, who just keeps on improving throughout his collegiate career, the Hawkeyes look capable at making another run at a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth. Should Iowa be able to win a Big Ten championship and make the playoffs, and if King exceeds his 2015 statistics–adding a little more electricity–the Detroit native should be in New York in December and maybe hear his name alongside 2016 Heisman winner.