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Harty: Derby leaving makes more sense than switch to LB did

[ 10 ] January 17, 2012 |

A.J. Derby apparently still wants to play quarterback and is willing to leave the Iowa football team and his hometown to achieve that goal.

Until Derby or somebody close to him, preferably his mother or father, says otherwise, I’m sticking with that theory.

It’s the only thing that makes sense at this stage because it sure didn’t make sense when Derby switched from playing quarterback to linebacker midway through this past season.

The same kid who graduated a semester early from Iowa City High to get a head start on being a Hawkeye quarterback suddenly changes his mind midway through his redshirt freshman season after injuries start to mount and now he wants to play linebacker in order to get on the field sooner.

The switch felt awkward at the time and now we know why.

Derby seems determined to play quarterback and is willing to walk away from his father’s alma mater and the town in which he was born and raised to pursue that goal.

He appears headed to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas where he would play quarterback for one season before transferring back to a Football Bowl Subdivision school in 2013 with two seasons of eligibility remaining.

That rumor surfaced late Monday afternoon and then picked up steam, at least with me, after Coffeyville football coach Aaron Flores refused to comment on anything about Derby’s situation and then said to call him back in a week.

That kind of secrecy and paranoia is a hint that something’s brewing between Derby and the same junior college that produced former Iowa basketball star Reggie Evans a little more than a decade ago.

Derby’s decision came out of nowhere, which is rare in this age of Twitter and Facebook, text messaging, blogging and online message boards.

It wasn’t even a topic on the message boards until Monday morning, just hours before it was announced Derby was leaving Iowa. For Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Derby is the 31st player that has signed a letter of intent with Iowa since 2008 to leave the program with eligibility remaining.

That doesn’t include all-Big Ten offensive lineman Riley Reiff, who announced recently that he would skip his senior season to enter the 2012 draft where he is expected to be selected in the first round.

But it does include five running backs, including Adam Robinson and Marcus Coker, who combined to lead Iowa in rushing in each of the past three seasons.

The attrition at running back has gained a lot of attention because No. 1) it’s a glamour position; and No. 2) each of the five players had contributed in some capacity. It bothers fans more when a proven player leaves prematurely, especially if he plays a high-profile position.

But on the other hand, most of the aforementioned 31 players that have left Iowa prematurely did so because they were buried on the depth and in over their heads playing for a Big Ten school. They came to Iowa as lightly-recruited prospects and then lived up to the hype before bolting.

Derby didn’t fall into that category because he was heralded recruit coming out of high school and he figured to be in the mix at linebacker. He looked like a natural on special teams with how he shed blocks and had a nose for the football.

And at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, Derby has a frame that caused some to wonder if the Iowa coaches would try to turn him into a defensive end, which is a position of need.

What I’d like to know is if Derby saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that he wasn’t in the same class as quarterback Florida native Jake Rudock, who will be a redshirt freshman at Iowa next season.

Perhaps Derby gave linebacker a try thinking it’d be cool following in the footsteps of his father, John Derby, who played the position at Iowa from 1988-91.

But it can’t be easy playing linebacker for a Big Ten school when your heart is behind center and when your father already has set a high standard at the same school barely two decades ago.

It also can’t be easy breaking away from the school that’s always been the axis on which your life has rotated, as is the case with Derby’s relationship with Iowa.

Or maybe it is easy to break away for somebody that’s tired of being in the local spotlight, which shined brightly, but for the wrong reason, after Derby was charged in October with fourth-degree criminal mischief and public intoxication.

His older brother, Zach Derby, joined the Iowa football team as a walk-on tight end and started four games this past season. Zach will be a fifth-year senior next fall and should be in the mix again at tight end and a key contributor on special teams. So A.J. is giving up a rare and special opportunity to play another season at Iowa with his brother.

That’s a testimony to how much A.J. wants to play quarterback. A.J. Derby joined the Iowa football team under different circumstances than his brother in that A.J. had scholarship offers from numerous BCS schools, including the likes of Louisiana State, Florida and Nebraska.

You can assume many of the same BCS schools will come sniffing around again, especially if A.J. Derby goes on to excel as a junior-college quarterback next fall.

Speaking of the other BCS schools, many of them also are dealing with high levels of attrition. One report had Florida losing 12 players off its 2011 roster. That same report also had Oklahoma losing eight players and Michigan losing six.

Derby probably could land a scholarship at a BCS school without going to junior college, but probably not as a quarterback unless somebody is willing to take a chance without having much proof that he can play quarterback at the BCS level. He only appeared in two games at quarterback last season, completing 3-of-6 passes in mop-up duty.

But now Derby apparently is willing to uproot his life and begin a journey whose end is uncertain just for a chance to play quarterback in college.

It’s hard to criticize a kid for chasing a dream.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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