By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Julius Brents respected Phil Parker enough to sign a letter of intent with the Iowa football team as a defensive back recruit in 2018.
Parker has a history of producing standout defensive backs at Iowa, and that was attractive to Brents, who picked Iowa over scholarship offers from Michigan State, Indiana, North Carolina State, Louisville, Syracuse and Purdue among others.
Brents played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2018, but he saw action in just one game in 2019 due to an injury.
The recovery process was tough and lonely because players who are injured spend a lot of time away from their teammates.
But for Brents, it was also a blessing in disguise being injured because it allowed him to get even closer with Parker, who is Iowa’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
“This past year when I was going through all of my rehabilitation in the training room, coach Parker was actually in there with me,” Brents said Tuesday during a zoom conference with the media. “He had surgery on his knee, and we just started having more dialogue outside of the DB room. Basically, we normally talk on the field.
“And I gained a lot of knowledge from him and his viewpoint on how he sees things, and just put it into perspective.”
Brents describes the 57-year old Parker as a great person and says he is glad that Parker is taking him in the right direction as a student-athlete. Brents also said that Parker’s influence has made him a better person, and that is the ultimate compliment for any coach.
It was refreshing and inspiring to hear Brents talk about his respect and admiration for Parker because that is what college football should be all about.
Part of the challenge of being a successful coach at any level is earning the trust and respect of your players, and Parker has clearly achieved that with Brents, who is from Indianapolis.
And perhaps it isn’t coincidence that Brents has performed well during preseason practice and is expected to have a key role in Saturday’s season opener at Purdue.
His relationship with Parker is as strong as it’s ever been, and the 6-foot-3, 204-pound Brents finally is healthy and eager to matchup with Purdue’s talented receivers led by Rondale Moore and fellow Indianapolis native David Bell, who had 13 catches for 197 yards against Iowa last season.
Brents has known Bell since about the third grade and Brents said Tuesday that they have a pretty good relationship.
Iowa was among Bell’s top schools before he ultimately signed with Purdue.
“He’s a great player, and I know he showed that this past year as a freshman,” Brents said of Bell. “He made a lot of plays, especially against us. I’m just looking forward to the matchup this week.”
Kirk Ferentz spoke highly of Brents during a zoom conference on Tuesday, and that could be another sign that Brentz is on the rise and benefitting from his now closer relationship with Parker.
“As far as Julius, he’s had a really good preseason, so we’re excited about that,” Ferentz said. “He’s doing really well. Last year he had a hard time getting things together, injuries and different — just never kind of got in stride, but he’s done a good job here this year, this preseason period.”
The Iowa program is coming off a tumultuous offseason in which multiple former black players have accused the program of having racial disparities.
Chris Doyle was dismissed as the strength and conditioning coach in June, while eight former black players are also demanding the removal of Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and Athletic Director Gary Barta, claiming they were subjected to intentional race discrimination by the coaching staff and administration during their times as Hawkeyes.
The players also are threatening to file a $20 million lawsuit if their demands aren’t met.
Brents was asked about the potential law suit on Tuesday, but had little to say about it.
“Honestly, I haven’t paid too much attention to it,” Brents said. “I would say my main focus now is this game.”
The Iowa program has been rocked from a public relations standpoint due to the accusations of racial disparities, so to hear, Brents, who is black, talk so positively about Parker, who is white, was a nice change.
The Iowa culture has left something to be desired for black players. But Brents, who is part of Iowa’s 2020 Leadership Group, stands as a symbol of hope and optimism that things are moving in the right direction.
Brents is listed as the backup to Matt Hankins at left cornerback, but Brents also started three games as a true freshman in 2018, including the 38-36 loss at Purdue.
In fact, Brents was involved in a critical pass interference call near the end of the Purdue game in 2018, and he was asked on Tuesday if he feels he interfered on the play.
“I’ll leave that up to the refs,” Brents said. “All I can do is control what I can control and keep playing and move forward.”
That answer would almost certainly bring a smile to Parker’s face because it was the perfect answer under the circumstances.
To complain about a call from two years ago would accomplish nothing.
Brents prefers to live in the moment, and this could be his moment to shine as a Hawkeye.
He and Parker have a mutual trust and respect that has helped to create a healthy environment for Brents to grow as a player, and as a person.
And with the COVID-19 global pandemic a constant threat, part of the challenge for Brents, and for his teammates, will be to stay healthy and available throughout the nine-game season.
The matchup with Purdue is big for lots of reasons, partly because it’s the much-anticipated season opener, and because Purdue has won two of the last three games against Iowa.
“We’ve kind of got a chip on our shoulder,” Brents said. “They beat us the past two out of three years. So we’re just looking forward to the matchup.”