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Keeler sits down for a chat with DJK

[ 12 ] April 23, 2011 |

Love him or loathe him, DJK draws a crowd. The doors for Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ autograph signing opened at noon Saturday, but when organizers arrived three hours early at the Sheraton West Des Moines, they found a family from Oelwein already waiting for them, memorabilia in hand. By 1 p.m., a room with a capacity of about 400 people was stuffed with a line all the way out the door.

Despite becoming Iowa’s all-time leader in receptions (173) and receiving yards (2,616), Johnson-Koulianos’ tenure ended badly, with his December arrest on drug charges and dismissal from the program. While visiting the metro, he gave the Des Moines Sunday Register 45 minutes to pick his brain. Because love him or loathe him, DJK is a heck of a story. And he tells it better than anyone else.

On legal troubles

SK: What happened the afternoon of Dec. 7?

DJK: I was getting ready to go to class and I was sitting in my room, in my underwear, surfing the Web. Suddenly, I heard this large crash at the front of my house, and I’m like, ‘What the hell is that?’ Peek around the corner, and there’s like these 12 (angry) faces standing there with guns out. And that was the moment when my whole life changed. And now I’m sitting here, doing stories about it, trying to redeem myself in the minds of the NFL. Life changes in a split second. It changed in a split second for me, but I changed it so it was even worse.

SK: You were charged with keeping a drug house. A dozen cops don’t just show up on your front porch without cause …

DJK: When they came to my house, they weren’t there for me. They voiced that to me: ‘We’re not here for you. So we’re here and just wait until this process is done.’ Again, I found myself, three hours later, the subject of the story.

SK: How long were you actually imprisoned?

DJK: Less than an hour. Less than a half-hour.

SK: So what’s going through your mind while all this is going on?

DJK: Honestly, I’m trying to figure out how the hell these inmates — these cellmates, whatever the hell they are — write the (expletive) on the wall that they do. Because there was (expletive) all over: ‘I want to kill myself. I love Ann.’ I’m like, ‘What did you write with? They give you nothing. There’s zero in here that you can write with.’ (Laughs.) What I was trying to figure out for 20 minutes was, ‘Is there something on me that I can write like, DJK WAS HERE? ‘Like, what the hell do they write this (expletive) with? But that’s what I was thinking.

SK: How prevalent were drugs in your inner circle, and when and why did you eventually succumb to that temptation?

DJK: For a long time, those things were around. They were available to me — any moment, could I have? And I didn’t, for a very long time. And then I thought that, ‘You know, I’m at the end of my time here.’ People got a little bit more persuasive. Scenarios started to recur a lot more often. Got weak-minded for a second there and allowed myself to go down a path and start participating in those demons. I made a bad mistake. I made a bad mistake. That’s just what it came down to: I made a mistake. I tried some things that were available to me, I guess — I would venture to say I was curious about. And I hurt myself from an NFL standpoint, from (the standpoint) of the public eye, from an all-time-Iowa-receptions-leader legacy, my parents, my little brother — it was a very dark moment. I wouldn’t call it a moment, but it was a dark time.

On Kirk Ferentz

SK: The NFL Draft is around the corner. What do you think hurt more: Your arrest, or not getting an endorsement from Kirk Ferentz, who has the ears of a lot of respected NFL personnel guys?

DJK: It’s an interesting question. I think if I hadn’t have gotten arrested, I think I could have overcame (it) if there was any blackballing going on. But being arrested for what I was arrested for gives absolute credibility to somebody blackballing me.

SK: So what was the relationship like with Kirk?

DJK: Kirk was an amazing man. It was weird, because we had this perception (out there) that we hated each other and were enemies. I never wanted to do anything more than make that man happy. I wanted to be a coach’s player — whether you believe it or not, every coach has a group of guys that he loves and he favors. And unfortunately, I wasn’t in that group. He’s in charge, and his rules are his rules. And if you don’t abide by them, which I didn’t sometimes, you will find yourself sitting out two quarters, a game, on the bench, (no access to) media, whatever it might be. Unfortunately, I’m the only one to blame for those things.

SK: What did you do?

DJK: Late for meetings, wearing sunglasses in an interview, too revealing in your interviews …

SK: Wait. You were actually punished for being ‘too revealing?’

DJK: I had a hard time understanding where it was too much. What was ‘too revealing.’ As a result, I was muzzled … I didn’t behave, and my approach wasn’t the ‘Iowa Way.’ I think after two years of Iowa football, I did invest in it, I wanted to be a part of it. At some point, I wanted to be a huge part of it. I think a some point, I was a huge part of it. And I tarnished all that.

SK: Do you think your records will stand? Some places, they might just excise you from the books altogether.

DJK: I heard that the highlights of me and (Adam Robinson, who’s also out of the program) were deleted out of the highlight film. Is that true?

SK: But they can’t change what you accomplished. You guys did those things.

DJK: You can take my name out. Delete them. Whoever was below me — put Kevin Kasper there. I’m not worried about it. I’m certainly not worried about records — that’s the last thing (on my mind). I’m more concerned about my affiliation with the university than my records.

SK: Have you tried to go back to the coaching staff, face-to-face?

DJK: I’m afraid to try, almost. Because then I would have (to deal with) the fear of facing denial, or (being) denied access.

SK: Have you written or called Ferentz?

DJK: I have. I’ve sent letters, and things like that.

SK: Has he returned them?

DJK: Never.

SK: When’s the last time you’ve spoken to Kirk?

DJK: The Sunday following the Minnesota game. He said, ‘Good job, Derrell.’ That’s the last thing he ever said to me.

SK: He didn’t tell you that you’d been kicked off the team after your arrest?

DJK: I found out through the media.

SK: Didn’t anyone from the staff tell you?

DJK: No one. Zero. If you don’t know anything else about me, you would know that I’m not a (liar). I’m probably the most honest person you’ll ever encounter. I wouldn’t lie to you. Zero. None. I will say this: I contacted my position coach and said, ‘What’s going on, do you need me to come in and get my things?’ And he said, ‘No, you’re all good.’ And that was it.

SK: What about other teammates? Coaches?

DJK: There are people in different positions in the program that have been right there as much as they could have been, as much as they can be.

SK: Will they be in trouble if you say who they are?

DJK: Yeah, they’ll be in trouble .

SK: Do you think you’ll be drafted?

DJK: Free agent. Hope for the best, expect the worst.

On Iowa City

SK: If you’re a high-profile figure in Iowa City, how hard is it to stay out of the limelight when you’re out socially? Is it a tough town that way?

DJK: It is. But I think some of those same temptations are available and present themselves at, say, The Ohio State University. But Iowa City is a little bit (of a) difference of culture. (The city) has to make money. How are you going to make money? You issue tickets to underage drinkers. You drop the drinking age, that whole thing …

SK: Well, that and parking tickets.

DJK: So between parking and issuing PAULAs, you drop the age for drinking, people are going to bars, they’re making boo koo bucks. That there in itself presents a problem, because what else is there to do in town? Nothing. But it works because (if) you take a chance, you get caught. Town’s making money, bars are making money, everybody’s making money. And it presents problems for you as an individual. Are you going to say, ‘I’m just going to go for this school for five years, never drink, never go to a bar, never illegally use an ID.’ And you’re going to have a horrible time. And that gets boring after a while. Oh my God, take a chance. Then you take a chance, you get in trouble.

SK: Sports Illustrated ran a piece last month that spotlighted the number of arrests in the Hawkeye football program. How much does it bother you to have contributed to that rap?

DJK: We have some of the best student-athletes ever in the country, in that program. I assure you of that. Quality people, dedicated athletes — I mean, premier potential, it’s insane. But, because of the nature of the city, and the town — it is what it is. We’re like (expletive) villains in there.

SK: Villains to whom? The police? Are the cops out to get you guys?

DJK: No, no, I don’t think they’re out to get us. They’re just doing their jobs. Obsessively. SK: Do Ferentz and the staff do a thorough enough job of educating players about the risks?

DJK: I assure you, I’ve sat in meetings for five years. Non-stop presentations on awareness. … No, you can’t even begin to blame somebody else for that stuff. (The coaches) understand it. They do everything they can to inform you of it. Everything. Every outlet, every avenue — they bring in sheriffs, town cops, everything they can do. Even still, after that, you’re like, ‘(Expletive), I ain’t doing anything.’ And then you’re like, ‘Hey, dude, you want to go out?’ That’s it. That’s all I got, babe.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Sean Keeler: Sean Keeler has been a sports columnist at The Des Moines Register since 2002. Got a story tip, comment, complaint? E-mail him at skeeler@dmreg.com. You can follow him on twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler or on Facebook at facebook.com/smkeeler. View author profile.

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