Derby Not Looking Back

HI.com Publisher
Posted Oct 22, 2011


A.J. Derby made the unconventional switch from college quarterback to linebacker this week. The freshman from Iowa City said he's looking forward.

Iowa CITY,Iowa - It is hard to tell what made Iowa fans more happy this week, a big homecoming win against Indiana or redshirt freshmen A.J. Derby switching from quarterback to linebacker.

We'll call it a toss-up.

Rampant rumors about the move this week proved accurate as the Iowa City native worked out with the linebackers in Saturday's pregame for Indiana. The I-told-you-so crowd hopped out of its collective seat when Derby leveled the kick returner on his first special teams play in college.

Derby rose to second-team quarterback this season. Injuries at the position and his athletic ability prompted the Iowa coaches to approach him on Tuesday about making the switch to defense.

Derby quickly dismissed the possible move from the time he committed to the Hawkeyes as a City High senior. He believed he was destined to be under center.

"I never thought about it," the 6-foot-4, 232-pounder said. "I was focused on coming in at quarterback. I've made the change and I'm excited about it now."

It's hard to say what triggered the about face by Derby. He said at media day that he would stay at quarterback for his Iowa career even if he never took a snap there. He said Saturday that he never practiced at linebacker in college before this week.

Derby also said that it had nothing to with an off-field arrest that led to a recent two-game suspension. Maybe, he just got tired of waiting to play football, a game he loves.

"I just went and talked to coach (Kirk Ferentz) about it (on Tuesday)," Derby said. "It was the first time he ever mentioned linebacker to me. We had a good talk about it and thought it was best for the team."

Derby was asked if he proved to himself that he could play quarterback at the BCS level by rising to No. 2 as a redshirt freshman.

"I guess so," Derby said. "I'm not really looking in the past. I'm looking forward. It was a hard decision, but I'm looking forward. I'm excited about this opportunity."

Derby answered most of the questions about him playing at quarterback in that fashion. He clearly has moved on from his offensive dream and seemed to be embracing his future.

"As far as I know, it's linebacker," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

Ferentz approach Derby with the idea for the position switch and asked for an answer by the end of the day. The coach said that he received his answer in about two hours.

"He gave me some time to think about it for the rest of the day before practice," Derby said. "He said I could take as much time as I wanted. I just wanted to make a decision quick, get it done with and get to linebacker.

"I talked to my family about it, my brother, and just went with that."

Derby's father, John, played linebacker at Iowa. A.J.'s brother, Zach, has taken over as the starting tight end this season after walking onto the program.

Derby is working out at the LEO linebacker spot. The regular starter at that spot this season is senior Tyler Nielson.

Derby, who played defensive end, safety and linebacker in high school, said he was not overwhelmed in the new posotion meetings this week.

"It wasn't bad," he said. "I'm a smart kid so I kind of picked up on it quickly."

Marvin McNutt talked about the change in conditioning when he switched from quarterback to wide receiver. Derby said he didn't feel a big change.

"I've always tried to be in the best condition I can to be a quarterback because I always had that capablity of running so I would never get tired if I did have to run," Derby said. "I feel like I'm in pretty good condition."

Derby showed his ability to make plays with his special teams' tackle on Saturday.

"It was good to get some contact out there and make a tackle," he said. "I hadn't hit anybody since I got here. It's weird. It was kind of fun"

Derby also said he learned his lesson from the arrest that cost him two games of his freshman season.

"I just have to put the team first and stop being dumb," he said. "I just have to do what's best for the team every day."

The switch to linebacker also could make things more interesting at the holiday dinner table. Dad will be watching closely.

"He's excited," A.J. said. "He told me he's going to start critiquing me."

And as a LEO linebacker, A.J. will be covering Zach at times in practice

"I'm looking forward to it," A.J. said with a smile.


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