At this time a year ago, Derrick Willies was the top story coming out of Iowa spring drills. The long, speedy, freshman wide receiver tore up the public practice leaving hope for him sky high in Hawkeye Land.
Talented receivers have run routes in Kinnick Stadium during Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s 16-year tenure, to be sure. But Willies offered the raw tools rarely seen during the era.
Despite the heavy attention coming his way before ever catching a pass in a real game, Ferentz said during August’s media day that Willies handled everything on and off the field maturely. The fairy tale ended there.
Willies played sparingly through the first part of last season. He caught four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown before announcing he was transferring out of the program in late October. Ferentz said it was so the young receiver could be with his ailing father but quarterback C.J. Beathard revealed that a lack of reps factored into the decision.
Willies enrolled at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas in January. He joined the team there and will play this fall for the Cardinals, he said.
Willies told AllHawkeyes.com in a text interview Tuesday night that he’ll then be heading to Missouri on scholarship in January. He’ll retain two years of eligibility when he begins the 2016 season in Columbia and the SEC.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Willies attempted to rejoin the Iowa team, releasing a statement to the media on Nov. 18.
“I thought I was putting my family first. Only after time did I realize I’m leaving my family here – my team. It’s a lot to deal with all at once, when the man you look up to your whole life tells you he only has a little time left. My father is going to move here, and I am going to try to get my place back on the team. That’s all I have to say on everything," he wrote.
Later that day, Ferentz was asked about Willies’ return at his weekly press conference. He made light of the news and said he hadn’t talked with the player.
The coach eventually heard from Willies. Ferentz announced in late December that a return to Iowa wasn’t happening for the Rock Island (IL) High product.
"We’ve spoken several times. And yeah, he’s going to move on," Ferentz said at the time. "He’s going to explore some other options. It does not look like he’ll be coming back in January."
Ferentz was asked if the parties failed to come together on terms of Willies’ return to the team.
"We had a conversation about what I thought was fair," the coach said then. "The bottom line was, he gave it some thought and just decided to pursue some other paths."