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Home / Enter ‘The Buddha:’ Instincts make Desmond King an impact corner
When Yvette Powell's son was born, he was a hefty kid. Desmond King came into the world 9 pounds, 8 ounces. He had chubby cheeks and so his mom nicknamed him 'Buddha.”
Nineteen years later, King is a cornerback for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He is one of the stars of the defense, named all-Big Ten midseason this week by ESPN.com. He had a one-handed interception and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown last week against Indiana. King came off the bench last year in his first game as a true freshman and still hasn't left the field.
King is making a name for himself. Around teammates, that name still is 'Buddha.”
'That would make sense,” said sophomore cornerback Greg Mabin, King's corner mate and dorm neighbor. 'I've seen baby pictures of him. He used to have a little bit of a gut and the chubby cheeks and everything.”
Yes, the Buddha nickname has followed him from Detroit, Mich., to Iowa City.
'Around here, everyone is comfortable calling me Buddha,” King said. 'It's a name to me. I'll answer to it if anyone calls me that.”
King talks about being Buddha with, as you might imagine, a smile. It's a way into a conversation with a player who's probably heard all of his life that he's too small or too slow. There's a hardness in there that allows King to blow through all of that.
His mom nicknamed him Buddha and then threw him out on a wrestling mat. That probably kind of helped. This is where he learned the whens and hows of taking his shot.
'She threw me out there to see if I liked it,” King said. 'I ended up liking it and did it for a good amount of years in high school.”
King said he lost eight matches during his prep years at East English Village High School. He wrestled at 150 pounds and had no problem cutting weight.
You don't see the cornerback/wrestler combo much in football. You see offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers with wrestling backgrounds, but not too many cornerbacks.
By the way, the wrestling thing is something King wears with pride. Maybe too much pride, as it turns out.
'He tells us everyday,” linebacker Quinton Alston said. 'He's a little guy and he comes into the locker room and he tries to challenge all of the big guys. You'll see him over there, trying to grab at [massive offensive tackle Brandon] Scherff's legs everyday. He has a big heart, I like it. But, yes, he tries to show off his little wrestling ability everyday.”
This turns out to be truth, and so you'd better be ready.
'He tries to get at us,” Mabin said. 'From time to time, just randomly out of nowhere, he'll try to blindside us. You've just got to be ready. You've got to keep your head on a swivel around him at all times.”
Iowa's defensive backs are kind of an alley dog group. Free safety Jordan Lomax had Power 5 conference offers (Stanford, Virginia, Maryland and Louisville), but the others were mostly Mid-American Conference-level recruits. King committed to Central Michigan and Ball State before hooking in with Iowa. Mabin had offers from Jacksonville State and Tulane. Strong safety John Lowdermilk had offers from Air Force and Miami (Ohio).
The group has made it this far with that extra sort of cussedness that lift non-pedigreed athletes. They constantly compete. One competition King mentioned no one seems to remember. Then again, if you have a contest to see who falls asleep last, you can't be surprised if no one remembers the winner. Or even the contest, really.
This is life among Iowa's defensive backs. They are a close group and they have cussedness, so, yes, they will occasionally have wrestling matches, cussedness being cussedness.
'We wrestle in our free time, I don't know why,” Lowdermilk said. 'We like to compete, we're competitive, so we get into wrestling matches. Someone told me he [King] wrestled before, and you could tell. He was a good wrestler and whatever, but one thing you really could tell was he has really strong hands.”
There's the connection, at least part of it. Cornerbacks jam wide receivers and pretty much do everything they can to prevent them from getting open. You can see where strong hands would come in, oh no, handy.
'When [King] gets his hands on receivers, he's really good at getting a jam in,” Lowdermilk said.
King set the East English career rushing record (nearly 4,800 yards), which included 2,360 yards and scored 33 touchdowns as a senior. King said he often draws from the running back experience. Having been the running back's head, he can get into the running back's head.
'I know what a running back wants to do in the open field against a defensive back,” King said. 'I know they're going to make a move on me when I get close, so I know I have to take my shot.”
Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker also recruits Michigan for the Iowa staff. He was intimately involved with King's recruitment. It wasn't the wrestling or the strong hands that caught his attention. The running back film gave Parker insight into King's overall game.
'Lots of times with defensive backs, you don't see it in high school,” Parker said. 'Sometimes, the guy stands out there and there isn't much activity. But when the guy was running the ball that relates to being a defensive back, and that's the hardest challenge to find defensive backs that are involved on both sides of the ball.”
There was the running back film. There also was the 29 career interceptions, which is the Michigan prep record. King did this playing Detroit's Public School League, which isn't known for passing.
'He's not a blazer,” Rivals.com midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. 'That's not to say he's not fast, because he does have adequate speed for the cornerback position. But at that height - he's probably about 5-9 1/2, maybe 5-10 - some coaches want a kid who can just fly. That's not Desmond. But he is so instinctually aware at the position that he plays faster. You can't fake 29 interceptions. That's an outstanding number. It really speaks to just his feel for the position, his knack in pass coverage.”
Interceptions are nice, but it's not the only measure for defensive backs. The pick six against Indiana last week was King's first interception, but it was far from his first important play.
Parker so often asks his corners to be primary run support. This season, that's pitted King against Pitt's James Conner, a 250-pound running back who'll also play defensive end this weekend. Last week, well, that was an implosion for the entire defense. Let the record show that Iowa did at least tackle Tevin Coleman 12 times between TD runs of 83, 45 and 69 yards.
King managed to track down Coleman twice in the open field. He dove in at his legs and did that wrestling thing when he was the last black jersey between Coleman and 20 or 30 yards or more.
'I know when I have someone coming at me in the open field, I'm a very good open-field tackler,” King said. 'You have to have the leverage on the ball carrier and take your shot.”
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