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IOWA CITY — Former Iowa player and Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said former Iowa player A.J. Derby has a chance to become one of the Southeastern Conference’s success stories this season.
Derby, who spent two seasons at Iowa, switched from quarterback to tight end this spring. An Iowa City High graduate, Derby enters his senior season.
“A.J. Derby, in my opinion, may be one of the surprises of our football team, but one of the best stories in the SEC this year,” Bielema said Wednesday. “I think he’s shown us in practice what he can be is truly exceptional.”
Derby (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) played quarterback at Iowa while redshirting in 2010 and then switched to linebacker in 2011. He left Iowa following that season and enrolled at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College as a quarterback. Derby completed 149 of 321 passes for 1,936 yards and 22 touchdowns and elected to walk on last year at Arkansas.
As an Arkansas junior, the 22-year-old Derby completed 19 of 36 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He started at Rutgers and played in seven games. He saw action against Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Ole Miss.
Bielema, who played at Iowa with Derby’s father, John, enters his second season at Arkansas after a 3-9 (0-8 SEC) season. He spent seven years at Wisconsin, where he claimed three consecutive Big Ten titles. He was an Iowa team captain under Hayden Fry, with whom he later coached. Bielema also coached under Kirk Ferentz.
When asked how he put together his coaching staff at both Wisconsin and Arkansas, Bielema said he relied on his background as an assistant under Fry, Ferentz, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez.
“I remember being around Coach Ferentz when he took over Iowa,” Bielema said. “He began to bring in his coaches. I was the only holdover. Chuck Long was there, but he wasn’t involved in a lot of the hires.
“I would sit in every meeting, watch Coach Ferentz interview the coaches. I would ask, ‘Why are you talking to this guy?’ I sat in the car, and Coach Ferentz was interviewing someone, he was talking to Coach (Jeff) Fisher that had been in the Titans, I was psyched I was in the car when that happened. I thought that was cool.”
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