Howe: DJK Lost His Way

HI.com Publisher
Posted Dec 8, 2010


How could this happened? How does Iowa's all-time leading receiver get arrested on drug charges? HI Publisher Rob Howe weighs in on the Derrell Johnson-Koulianos story.

IOWA CITY, Ia. - I sat here at my desk with a blank page and flashing cursor for several hours. I stared at it then let myself get distracted by surfing the internet. I read message board posts, Facebook updates and Twitter comments.

Struggling to find words never is good in my business. It's called writer's block and is sometimes a scattering of ideas rather than having none to share. Some subjects are slippery.

I will admit that hearing the news of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' drug charges hit me hard last night. I'm sure it did the same for most of the Hawkeye world. It has resulted in predictable reactions ranging from anger to sympathy.

Johnson-Koulianos is a public figure, one whose relationship with Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz divided much of the fan base. Tuesday's events stoke the fire of coach versus player. The Ferentz camp certainly sits with the ammunition for the I-told-you-so, game-winning, fourth-quarter score.

Johnson-Koulianos won't win in the court of public opinion. He'll be held up as an example who blew opportunities. He's intelligent. He knows that.

While that discussion will rage on for days, weeks, perhaps months, it eventually fades. Steve Alford and Jake Christensen no longer are lighting rods of debate around here.

No doubt this development will tarnish Johnson-Koulianos' legacy as Iowa's all-time leader in catches and receiving yardage. The drug charges are part of his story. He's put himself in that position.

Police reports say he admits to using marijuana, cocaine and medications not prescribed to him. No matter what happens in court going forward, that bed is made.

There's no excuse for the behavior. In addition to being illegal, he's an athlete on scholarship. It's not part of training table.

Derrell's fate now lies in the hands of the legal system. That's how folks in our country pay a debt in this society. How he responds to his penalty will determine if he's a success or failure in life, not this one incident. At 23, he's got a lot more years ahead of him than are behind him.

Plenty of fans are angry with Johnson-Koulianos. Some of them feel duped. Again, that's a normal feeling.

I can't say I feel bad for Derrell. although there's a part of me that wonders how the first 10 years of his life might have affected his judgment. I can say I'm sad for him.

I'm sad because he was adopted by a great family after bouncing around Youngstown, Ohio for much of his childhood. His birth father died and his birth mother wasn't a responsible parent.

Unlike many people who have fallen through the cracks in our society, the Koulianos family caught Derrell. They raised him and loved him. They supported him so he could realize his dream of excelling at the game he adored.

That will be the hardest thing for Derrell. He has to live with letting down the family that lifted him up. Some of us know what it's like to carry that weight.

The good thing for Derrell is that his family, while disappointed, will attempt to help him become better from this experience. It's up to him to accept it and move his life forward in a positive way.

I read and hear people call the Koulianos family out for enabling their son. I can't go there. As a parent, you do your best to love your children and teach them right from wrong. They're human, however. They make mistakes.

Not that he needs it, but I forgive Johnson-Koulianos. I forgive Ed Podolak. I know them. They're good people that wrestle with demons. I have experience in the area.

I don't think that Kirk Ferentz takes an iota of satisfaction in the arrest of his star receiver. He's a parent whose son, James, bumped with the law a few times while a player at Iowa.

The coach told me this year that he likes Derrell, who is very likable. Ferentz considered any discipline he'd handed out to be like punishing his son. It was part of the job description. Ferentz acted on infractions against team rules. It's far fetched to think he levied those penalties with an idea that he would ultimately suspend Johnson-Koulianos following a drug arrest. The coach wasn't firing off warning shots.

Ferentz is a good coach. He's not Kreskin.

I can't help but wonder why Johnson-Koulianos chose this path, why he put himself in harm's way. Perhaps, like a lot of the gifted, he felt teflon.

His legend was built before he arrived on campus. ESPN Analyst Kirk Herbstreit gushed over him after seeing him in high school. The word spread throughout the Hawkeye world.

Johnson-Koulianos welcomed the spotlight. He accepted the D.J.K. persona with open arms. Maybe he was unprepared from an emotional and maturity standpoint for how that would impact his life.

It's reasonable to assume that Johnson-Koulianos was exposed to the drug culture before joining the Koulianos family. One could say that it should have steered him clear of it. It also could have planted a seed of acceptance in his mind.

This is a phenomenon widely recognized in families of alcoholics. Many of us know people who abuse booze after watching a parent do it. Studies show it can happen with physical and mental abuse along with other diseases.

Ultimately, it comes down to the choices of the individual no matter his background. However, some folks face much higher hurdles than do others.

My hope here is that Johnson-Koulianos regains the focus that allowed him to overcome the odds to become a first-team all-Big Ten receiver and favorite of young Hawkeye fans during autograph sessions. This still could be a success story.

My advice would be to drop some, if not all, of the D.J.K persona. Get back to being Derrell. Ask your parents for help. We all make mistakes.


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