‘You can achieve big dreams’: Cooper DeJean’s journey from small-town

  • Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Senior Citizen WriterApr 3, 2024, 06:40 AM ET Close College football
  • press reporter. Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.Kirk Ferentz has an encyclopedic recall of Iowa players, the result of a quarter-century as Hawkeyes head coach, plus another 9 years as an assistant.Mention an existing Hawkeye, and Ferentz reflexively notes two or 3 from his own past, noting details about their play style, top moments, personality, NFL course and more. But Cooper DeJean, Iowa’s ubiquitous star defensive back, projected to enter the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, generates a different kind of response.When enjoying DeJean last season, Ferentz kept thinking about a player he never ever coached or perhaps met, who contended for Iowa and died more than a years before Ferentz was born. The most hallowed name in program history and among the state’s sporting heroes, whose tradition is commemorated at every Iowa home game– that’s the comp Ferentz picks for DeJean.” I don’t know how many players have been better than him, nevertheless long we’ve been playing football, 1889,”Ferentz said of DeJean.”Nile Kinnick’s name is up on the arena.” Kinnick is Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner. In 1939, he played 402 of 420 minutes, contributed to 107 of the team’s 130
  • points scored, led the country in kickoff return lawns and intercepted 8 passes, a group record now shared. He’s in Iowa’s athletics Hall of Popularity for both football and basketball, and caught pitches from Bob Feller on an American Legion team. Kinnick excelled at whatever he did and anywhere he did it– from his home town of Adel, Iowa, to the stadium that would later bear his name.DeJean is forming his legend from similar Iowa soil, as a four-sport star from the small town of Odebolt, and an alphabet soup high school(OABCIG )within the state that provided” Field of Dreams. “His high school career included championships and highlights, but likewise intrigue, since he completed in such a sparsely inhabited location. His most famous play at Iowa didn’t in fact count.DeJean’s post-Iowa path will be drastically different from Kinnick’s. ESPN’s Mel Kiper and others anticipate him to become the very first Iowa defensive back taken in the preliminary of the NFL draft under Ferentz, and the very first from Iowa considering that Tom Knight went No. 9 overall in 1997. Although DeJean played several defensive back positions at Iowa and impressed on punt returns, he’s being examined mostly as a cornerback. “It just seems like everything he does, he’s good and he wins,”Ferentz said of DeJean.So, who is Cooper DeJean, and why do Iowa’s program stewards currently consider him a living legend? ESPN TYLER BARNES WILL owe Travis Schroeder for life.Barnes, Iowa’s director of recruiting, used to live next door to Schoeder, not far from Iowa’s school. A native of Odebolt, Schroeder would pepper his next-door neighbor about an emerging star athlete from his hometown.Schroeder had actually never seen DeJean play however heard all the buzz.

    Plus, he knew DeJean’s family. DeJean’s grandfather, Al Wilke, coached Schroeder in high school football. When DeJean’s moms and dads moved to town from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, they opened a bar and grill– originally called Cobe’s, for Cooper and his younger bro Beckett, and now called The Bowling Alley– that is owned by Schroeder’s relatives.So it enters Odebolt, a town of less than 1,000 residents in the northwest part of the state.” You can get from one end to another in probably 5 minutes,” DeJean said.”We have actually got no stoplights, we’ve got two bar and grills, two gas stations, probably seven total stop indications.”Included Schroeder:”You’ll drive through town and you

    may not see a car. You might not see an individual.”While participating in an Iowa basketball game with Barnes

    , Schroeder once again told his good friend to think about DeJean.” Trav, “Schroeder kept in mind Barnes jokingly saying, “there are no D-I professional athletes coming out of Odebolt.”

    The fact: Iowa prided itself on determining small-town prospects from the state, often neglected as recruits,

    and establishing them into big-stage stars. The team has sent numerous to the NFL, such as Panthers linebacker Josey

    Jewell, who grew up on a farm in Decorah(population: 7,747 ), or Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson, from Chariton (population: 4,220 ). The Odebolt area hadn’t produced lots of top-division players, however Trever Ryen, who attended DeJean’s high school, walked on at Iowa State and ended up being an All-Big 12 punt returner and a strong large receiver.Barnes watched film of DeJean.”Possibly this kid’s got a chance,”he informed himself. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall DeJEAN COMPETED IN football, basketball, track and baseball, and, as a young boy, battling and soccer. He played everything– not even if he wished to– but likewise out of necessity.Odebolt and its surrounding towns– Arthur

    , Fight Creek and Ida Grove– need their best athletes

    to participate in all

    sports. The towns feed into the exact same intermediate school, in Odebolt, and the very same high school, about 15 minutes from DeJean’s home, in Ida Grove. At first 2 different school districts expanded over four counties and 259 square miles, they merged in 2018 to form OABCIG.Sports resonated in the area, specifically for the DeJeans. Cooper’s dad, Jason, played basketball at Huron University in South Dakota. His mother, Katie, played basketball and softball at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. Wilke, Katie’s father, coached and was associated with sports, frequently taking Cooper and his more youthful brothers

    to fields and courts around town. “That’s something they worried to me:’Play all the sports, there’s no requirement to focus on one,’ “Cooper said.”That’s the only time in your life where you can play numerous sports, so why not play all four in high school?”At OABCIG High, he was a three-time all-state selection in football with 2 state titles. His qualifications consisted of: 1,832 profession points in basketball, more than Harrison Barnes, the McDonald’s All-American out of Ames High School now with the Sacramento Kings; state champion for long jump and 100-meter dash as a senior; all-state honors in football, basketball and track as a senior;

    3 letters in baseball, which is played in the summer, while also handling AAU basketball. In 2021, DeJean was named Iowa High School Male Athlete of the Year by the Des Moines Register.Many pegged DeJean– at 6 foot and 1/2– to play basketball in college.”If he was 6-4 or 6-5, he probably wouldn’t be playing football,”Jason DeJean said.Larry Allen, DeJean’s football coach at OABCIG High, didn’t have numerous reference points in anticipating DeJean’s college path.”One kid that played at [Northern Iowa] and one kid that dipped into Iowa State is all I have actually ever had, so you didn’t actually understand the talent level,”

    Allen stated.” A couple of individuals asked: Is this what a D-I guy looks like? Is he really that excellent? He’s pretty dang great, however you just wonder.” DeJean came to Iowa’s school 12 or 13 times, including the team’s football camp, but didn’t protect a deal right now, for two factors. He required a position after logging snaps at quarterback, pass receiver and defensive back for OABCIG. He likewise required a personality. “He might sit on a Zoom call and simply stare at you for 2 hours without stating a word, “Barnes said. “This kid, does he have a pulse? Exists a heart beat? Cooper, simply give us something. Smile, laugh. He was just so serious. “DeJean was really booked, but his athletic success resounded, resulting in an Iowa deal. A number of DeJean’s finest highlights came on the basketball court, where he started dunking the summer before his freshman year of high school.

    So in January 2020, Barnes made the trek to Odebolt for a basketball game. Coaches from 2 other major conference schools also attended. Barnes remembers them fussing over what position DeJean would play. Other than Iowa, DeJean had offers from only

    FCS programs in the Dakotas.As Barnes watched, DeJean opened the game with five consecutive dunks. “Three of them were over 6-foot-4 guys,”Barnes said.”I’m just sitting there, giggling, like,’ You [other schools] are nuts. This kid is something. I don’t understand what he is. However you do not see that in Iowa extremely frequently, those kind of athletic traits.'”Barnes texted Iowa’s staff: He’s the genuine offer. DeJean wished to play quarterback, though, and Iowa pegged him for defense. He had main visits to Virginia and Kansas State arranged but canceled them after COVID-19 hit in March 2020.

    Around that time, Barnes texted DeJean, telling him that he belonged at Iowa, and to rely on the group’s forecast for him, as “a high-level security. “To Barnes ‘surprise, DeJean reacted and committed on the spot. “We lucked into him,”Barnes stated.”I want I might state we had a great assessment, however thank god for my neighbor Travis.” play 1:07 Iowa’s go-ahead TD rubbed out after fair catch call Cooper DeJean returns punt for a 54-yard Iowa touchdown to get the lead, however it is taken

    off the board after DeJean appeared to movement for a reasonable catch.LEGENDS ARE MOLDED through minutes, and DeJean provided plenty, both before and after he came to Iowa.There was his last high school game, the 2020 state championship against

    Van Meter at Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome. In the final five minutes, he obstructed an extra-point effort to keep OABCIG at a single-score deficit, returned a punt 14 backyards and after that scored a goal and the connecting two-point conversion, both on runs, with 1:30 left.Van Meter fumbled the occurring kickoff, recovered by DeJean’s younger sibling, Beckett. On the next play, Cooper kept the ball, ran to his left, wriggled without a protector, stopped, reversed field, broke 2 more deals with and scored the winning goal. OABCIG won the last 25 games of DeJean’s high school career and its first 2 state titles. He

    represented 9,520 overall lawns and 132 goals throughout the stretch.” He did whatever,” Ferentz said. “Some guys just seem to do things other people can’t do.”Editor’s Picks 2 Related Cooper barely played as a freshman at Iowa, not even making the travel lineup for early games such as the Cy-Hawk clash at Iowa State. But he found a role on unique groups

    and began the regular-season ending against Nebraska at safety.DeJean’s playmaking expertise was on full screen in 2022. After a quiet season opener, he had interceptions in his next three games, scoring his very first touchdown on a 45-yard return against Rutgers. In a 24-10 win against Wisconsin that season, DeJean had a pick-six, 10 deals with(one for loss)and 81 punt return backyards, consisting of a 41-yard runback. He also downed a punt at the Wisconsin 1-yard line. He finished with three pick-sixes that fall, setting Iowa’s single-season record and tying the

    profession mark.His most impressive play came last season and didn’t even count. Iowa routed Minnesota 12-10 late in the 4th quarter and appeared not likely to create points from its woeful offense. After Iowa forced a three-and-out, DeJean fielded a punt off a bounce near midfield, ideal next to the Minnesota sideline.DeJean eluded the grasp of 2 Gophers, raced up the sideline, cut down through the arm of another and then outraced Kerry Brown for the consent touchdown with 1:21 left. Had Kinnick ever been louder? “Most likely would have been the greatest play in the history of Iowa football had it counted, “Ferentz stated.”I’m still attempting to find out how that wasn’t a legal play. “After an evaluation, authorities ruled that DeJean had made a void reasonable catch signal by waving his left arm before scooping up the ball. Still, it put DeJean’s game-breaking capabilities on complete display.”He’s got excellent speed and excellent ball skills, but his ability to be well balanced and his footwork is so good,” defensive planner Phil Parker stated.”He’s type of a rare guy. Everyone said,’Wow, take a look at what you did to Cooper. ‘Well, Cooper did that to himself.

    Cooper made who he is today due to the fact that of the drive that he needs to be terrific.” NILE KINNICK DID all of it for Iowa. His group records on offense and defense lasted for years. His Huge 10 record for single-game punt return lawns spanned from 1939 until Maryland’s William Most likely broke it in 2015. Although Iowa has promoted “Punting is Winning “over the last few years, Kinnick still holds records for single-game punts (16)and punt lawns (731). DeJean shined on defense and unique teams, however a drumbeat grew for him to see time on offense, especially as Iowa reached historical lows for production.

    “There were register around town, “Jason DeJean said.” There was a place in Ida Grove that had a billboard: Put Cooper on offense. I would have enjoyed to see more of that, but it didn’t exercise.”As Ferentz mulled whether to utilize Cooper on offense, he remembered what his predecessor Hayden Fry once stated: If Ohio State loses a player, the next

    one may be much better. We do not have that here. In mid-November, Ferentz relented and DeJean began getting representatives on offense. However during a practice he fractured his left fibula, ending his season.”There’s a great deal of paradox because,”Ferentz said.DeJean still received agreement All-America honors despite missing the last four games, including the Huge 10 champion. He won the Big Ten’s private awards for protective back and return specialist.What to understand for the 2024 NFL draft – Mock drafts|DraftCast’s top potential customers – Rankings: Kiper|Miller|Reid|Yates – QB Hot Board|First-rounders – Position ranks|Full order|If DeJean had actually chosen to return as a senior in 2024, Ferentz guaranteed he would have had a more considerable function for the Hawkeyes’offense. “I informed him if he came back, he ‘d be one of those guys like Nile Kinnick, put his name on a structure,”Parker stated.”I never saw Nile Kinnick play, but all I can say is

    [ DeJean] is the variation of what I believe he would be today.”On Jan. 4, DeJean stated for the draft. While recovering from leg surgery, he participated in the NFL integrate however didn’t participate in on-field tests. He began to run at full speed in February, however did only the bench press at Iowa’s professional day last month. DeJean is set to run the 40-yard dash and participate in all drills and tests for groups Monday in Iowa City. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, DeJean sent out a letter to NFL clubs last week informing them he has actually been cleared to return to all
    football activities.He’s the most recent in a line of significant protective backs under Ferentz and Parker, who coached the secondary for his very first 13 years on staff before taking control of as planner. Iowa has had 17 protective

    backs chosen because the 2000 draft, consisting of eventual All-Pros in Desmond King, Micah Hyde and Bob Sanders. Considering That the Big 10 released its specific position awards in 2011, Iowa has actually won 6 times with six different players. No other team has won more than twice.The Hawkeyes also have consistently produced first-round choices, 13 in all under Ferentz, consisting of two last year and another in 2022. However none played defensive back.”

    If you had retro picks, then we ‘d have more first-rounders,”Ferentz stated.”Bob Sanders need to have been a first-rounder, and if he was 6-foot, I’m sure he would have been. However if he was 6-foot, he would have gone to Penn State and they would have recruited him. But he was 5-foot-8, and he didn’t.” However it ‘d be nice if it happens, mainly simply for Cooper’s sake, a great plume in his cap. “Much of DeJean’s NFL evaluation is evaluating what he will be at the next level. In 2022, he began 10 games at cornerback and 3 at the cash position, a safety-linebacker hybrid. He practiced early in his profession at security, but began every game last fall at corner before the injury.”Some groups may believe he’s a nickel, some teams may think he’s a corner, some groups may think he’s a security, but he’s just going to play one,”an NFL scout stated, including that how DeJean runs Monday will be a substantial factor.”He’s going to get drafted high enough that you draft him for that position.”The first-round forecasts for DeJean– Kiper has him at No. 21 on his newest Big Board– are as a cornerback, where he would be an NFL rarity. The league has actually had a couple of white cornerbacks over the years, but none as a consistent starter since Jason Sehorn, who began 73 games

    for the Giants from 1996 to 2002. Throughout a media session at the integrate, DeJean dealt with concerns about being a white cornerback, much like his buddy and Iowa colleague, Riley Moss, did the year before. Moss memorably reacted, “Obviously, I look different. I don’t play various. “”I believe I can play corner,” DeJean said.

    “I have the size and speed to do so. However with my athleticism, I understand the talk of relocating to security, playing the nickel, moving me around the defense. At the end of the day, you put me out on the field, I’m going to find the ball and attempt to make plays and impact the defense in some way. “DeJean is surprised to find out that he would become the very first defensive back picked in the first round under Ferentz.

    He’s flattered by the comparisons to Kinnick, who he called”a damn good player”and whose name he said is associated with Iowa football.When it comes to tradition, though, DeJean’s thoughts return to Odebolt, where he takes images and signs autographs each time he visits, and where he prepares to watch the draft with family and friends.”I

    have actually been blessed to be in this position, maturing in a town,” he said.” My greatest thing is just being a motivation to the kids around my area, to show them if you put everything into what you wish to do, down the roadway, you can accomplish huge dreams. “

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