IOWA CITY — Darian Cotton committed to Iowa State two years ago. He’s now a red-shirt freshman defensive back and proud of his choice. But he goes home and tangles with his older brother Jordan Cotton at the family home in Mount Pleasant, it’s quite the tussle.
Jordan Cotton is a junior wide receiver at Iowa and the keeper of the family legacy. The Cotton brothers’ father, Marshall, played running back at Iowa from 1984-87. When they Darian Cotton and Jordan Cotton hang together during the summer, their mouths start to run.
“Ever since I committed he’s been talking to me,” Darian Cotton said. “In my ear, ‘Oh, I’m going to be better than you. I’m going to juke you out.’ Trying to say he’s going to make me look silly. I have a feeling I’m going to get a good hit on him so he’ll stop talking for a little bit.”
Like most athletes, they felt the urge to work out before heading to summer camp in early August. They lifted weights and ran sprints. But that’s where the workouts ended, and they had no say in the matter. The brothers may be divided this week for Iowa-Iowa State, but their father ensures there’s nothing more to the rivalry than gameday at Kinnick Stadium.
“When they were both home this summer, they told me they were going to go work out together,” said their father, Marshall Cotton. “I said, ‘Make sure you’re just going to lift weights or you’re going to run. Don’t be doing one-on-ones.
“I didn’t want them to start getting rough out there. They kind of laughed at me when I said it and I told them, ‘I’m not joking with you.’”
Marshall Cotton works as activities director at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility. He may be past his prime as a football player but he’s still the boss when it comes to the boys.
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“We’ll always get in arguments,” Jordan Cotton said. “I’m like, ‘We can go outside and we can run drills right now and see who’s better.’ Our dad always tells us not to do that and says, ‘Save it for the game.’”
“(Dad) doesn’t want it to be a huge rivalry,” Darian Cotton said. “We usually just lift together.”
The Cotton brothers formed a solid tandem in their Mount Pleasant days. The duo took the Panthers to the Class 3A quarterfinals in 2008. Jordan Cotton was a first-team all-state selection as both a junior and senior. He ran for 3,043 yards and 42 touchdowns and caught 54 passes for 664 yards and six touchdowns. He also produced on special teams, returning three touchdowns.
Darian Cotton was first-team all-state his senior year and combined for 1,553 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing in his junior and senior seasons. He also returned two kickoffs and an interception for a touchdown in his Mount Pleasant career.
For Jordan, there was no decision to make when it came to college. He picked Iowa, and he was excited about it. For Darian, it was a little more difficult. With family’s Iowa connections, there was some pressure for Darian to pick Iowa. But it didn’t come from his family.
Marshall Cotton was a former assistant coach at Iowa Wesleyan College after his playing days. He knows the recruiting landscape and became a sounding board to both boys when they were picking a college.
“For both of them I gave them advice, but I let them make their own choice,” Marshall Cotton said.
“It was all me making my decision,” Darian Cotton said. “(Dad) sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do. Then he goes, ‘I don’t want to put any pressure on your or anything.
“The coaches here at Iowa State are fantastic. I went to both camps, and it just seemed like Iowa State was for me.”
Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said recruiting Darian Cotton was a priority for him.
"Any reservations we had on Darian he put to rest when we had him in camp," Rhoads said. "He performed very well and was a great competitor that day. He excelled on both sides of the ball and ultimately those were all deciding factors for us."
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With the brothers often playing on the same afternoon, Marshall Cotton and his wife, Cindy, have to make choices about where to attend games. If there’s a home and a road game, they stay instate. If both teams are home, Marshall goes to Iowa City and Cindy heads to Ames.
“I’m very happy both of them,” Marshall Cotton said.
Both boys wear No. 23 for their teams, and their parents will display specialized T-shirts for the game. The front is black with gold lettering and reads “Cy-Hawk” with the number 23. The back is cardinal red with gold lettering that reads “Cotton” and also features 23.
“It’s fun for us, especially for my dad since he came here and he has to wear some Cyclone stuff, too,” Jordan Cotton said.
It’s all business for the Cotton brothers this week. Jordan Cotton said he’s tired of hearing his younger brother talk about Iowa State’s 44-41 triple overtime last year. It’s possible they may not face one another on the field with Jordan receiving only a few snaps in Iowa’s season-opening win and Darian not playing for Iowa State in its home opener. But if they do, watch out.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” Darian Cotton said. “I know the atmosphere out there so it’s going to be cool. I just get chills thinking about it. It’s going to be an awesome experience for me.”“He’s like my best friend,” Jordan Cotton said. “We’ve played together like our whole lives, and it’s kind of weird playing against him now. We’re both happy for ourselves so it should be fun.”