IOWA CITY, Iowa - Perhaps no other coach in the country worries more about premature hype than Kirk Ferentz. The Head Hawkeye believes in earning accolades whether that be his team or any individual player.
Ferentz prohibits true freshmen from speaking with the media. He's cautious with his words publicly when it comes to underclassmen. He'll shower seniors with praise for performance but more so for dedication to the program.
It's been interesting to listen to Ferentz field questions about redshirt freshman wide receiver Derrick Willies the last week. Since the Rock Island (IL) graduate shined brightly during the spring game, he's garnered a lot of attention from fans.
In the past, Ferentz has reeled in outside expectations with public caution. It was done for the player as much as the faithful.
In the day of instant information, athletes can get caught up in the hype on social media. Fans can build them up with praise that can distract them.
Ferentz hasn't done that with Willies. He's repeated that he felt his young route runner has avoided the pats on the back affecting his focus on improvement.
"You look at this grade point, to be able to go 3.0 in both semesters that's a good sign for a first-year player," Ferentz said at Monday's Iowa Media Day. "I haven't seen anything just watching him and observing him that would indicate he's acted any differently than he did before spring practice.
"So good news is I don't think he's overly impressive with what he's done. He realizes he hasn't made a catch yet in a varsity game here. He hasn't played and earned a letter. I don't think he's out trying to create a brand or something like that. I think he's worried about being a good Iowa football player, and that's refreshing."
Willies met the local media for the first time on Monday after being restricted as a true freshman. He appeared to be everything that his coach described.
"I don't really get on Facebook or any social media or anything like that. It's really been word of mouth," Willies said of how he's handled the buzz. "My family told me to keep doing a good job. (Receivers Coach Bobby Kennedy) always tells me I haven't arrived yet; keep working; keep pushing."
Kennedy said he's been impressed with Willies maturity and openness to accept coaching.
"I try to do a good job of helping him block out the noise," Kennedy said. "I think he knows where he is in his development and that being a redshirt freshman that he hasn't arrived yet, that he will flash and makes some plays, but he's got to do that on a consistent basis."
Willies has a very calm demeanor as you can see in the video below. Having moved around a lot in high school, from California to Iowa twice, he appears prepared for the ups and down of college athletics.
"It's definitely made it easier not feeling like I had to go home or get home sick at all. I'm a little more independent," Willies said.
Willies said the hardest part of his adjustment from California to Iowa was adapting to winter. He said he's comfortable in all four seasons at this point.
Now, Willies will attempt to show the coaches he's comfortable in their offense. With senior Damond Powell sidelined after having hernia surgery, the young guy has a chance to move up the depth chart.