Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Can Desmond King be even better for Hawkeyes?

Big Ten preview: Can Desmond King be even better for Hawkeyes?

Last season, Desmond King was the best defensive back in college football.

That usually means a ticket to the NFL, but King opted to return to Iowa for his senior season because he thinks he can be even better.

“My education was an important thing, and I have room for improvement,” King said last week during Big Ten Media Days. “There’s always time to get better.”

The decision whether to stick around for a senior season or head to the professional ranks is not an easy one — or so we all thought. According to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, King’s choice didn’t strike him as terribly difficult.

“I personally don't think it's tough at all,” the head coach said to some surprised faces at Media Days. “And I told Desmond basically the same thing I told (former Iowa offensive lineman) Brandon Scherff. From my vantage point there are few times in life where you get to do what you want to do. Not that you have to do or feel like you have to do. … When you're sitting in a position where you have a chance, you know your future's good no matter what you choose to do — you have an option to go to the NFL.

“And what I told both players was I was pretty confident when they're 26, 27, they were going to be really good players in the National Football League and contributing to whatever teams they were on. So that was out there. I think it's a given, pretty much a given for both those guys. It's one of those rare opportunities when you can do what you truly want to do, and every one of our NFL guys that comes back and always tells our team the most fun they'll ever have is in college. I think both those guys took it to heart.

“I know Desmond, it's really important to finish the degree work not only to him but his entire family. I think in both cases with Desmond and Brandon the messages they heard from their families was very positive towards staying in college. And the bottom line is you only get to be a senior twice in your life as an athlete, and those are really enjoyable, fulfilling years. And I think Desmond really appreciated that. I think he's excited about being back and also embracing the challenge of being a leader and being a better player than he was last year. It may not show up statistically, but being a better football player for us, that's something that we're all counting on.”

What is tough is envisioning how King can be even better than he was last season. As a junior, King ranked second in the country with eight interceptions and fifth with 21 passes defended, numbers that ranked first and second in the Big Ten, respectively. He earned All-Big Ten First Team honors and was named the winner of both the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Award and the Jim Thorpe Award, handed out annually to college football’s top defensive back.

King will have to deal with a challenge that often plagues high-profile defensive backs, and it’s a unique challenge considering his decision to put his NFL future on hold: How do you remain the best defensive back in college football if the other team doesn’t throw in your direction?

“I don’t think it will be hard (to have similar success to last season) because it’s not about what I did, (it’s about) the actions that I put out there on the field,” King said. “It’s not about just going out there and looking for a goal or aiming for a goal, it’s about going out there and playing, doing what I did before I got any of the accolades or the interceptions. It’s about your technique and your preparation throughout the week. That’s what got me to where I’m at, and I feel like that put me in a good position.”

King’s talent isn’t in doubt, and he was right to be honored as much as he was last season. He can also help in a variety of different ways, proving so by ranking third in the Big Ten in both punt-return and kick-return yards.

But, much like Iowa has to find a way to follow up a 12-0 regular season, King has to find a way to follow up his spectacular season — and prove he made the right decision by returning to school.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.