HI Conversation: 1-on-1 with A.J. Derby

With the 2010 Iowa recruiting class signing letters of intent today,it's likely the microscope for the future will be the most intense on QB A.J. Derby. Some critics believe he's better suited for another position. He talks about that and much more in this exclusive HI.com interview.

A.J. Derby already has begun his apprenticeship at quarterback for Iowa. He enrolled in college in January after finishing up high school early.

The Iowa City High product gets a jump on school and football, as he will be able to partake in spring drills. He'll basically be afforded a year and a half to redshirt, if he and the coaches choose to do so.

A lot of people hold opinions of Derby. Some feel like he's wasting time at quarterback and Iowa would be better served with him at another position. He and the Hawkeye staff feel like he can make it under center.

Hawkeye Insider watched Derby compete toe-to-toe with other quarterbacks at the Army Bowl in San Antonio last month. We also caught up with him for this one-on-one interview:

Q: How much of a jump do you think you've made from where you were last year to where you are now as a quarterback?

A: I'm like 10 or 20 times better than I was last year. Last year (at the underclassmen combine), I was inaccurate. This year (at the Army Bowl), during the accuracy contest, I thought I did pretty well. I was like an inch off on every one. So, I've made some big leaps and am excited for college.

Q: When did you start focusing on playing quarterback?

A: When I started rally focusing on it was right after last football season, probably right at the combine time. It may have even been more after the basketball season. I decided this was what I wanted to do. It's just been repetitions, going to camps, getting my mechanics down.

Q: You were a guy that was all over the field before the decision. What got into your head that led you to focusing on playing QB?

A: I just love being a quarterback, having the ball in your hands on every play. I just felt like this was the position for me.

Q: Have you been motivated by the doubters?

A: Oh, yeah. I'm just trying to prove people wrong. For some reason, people don't think I can play quarterback. I don't know why. As a starting quarterback, I think I'm 25-1 or something like that. I guess that's not good enough. We'll just figure it and just keep plugging along.

Q: Are you going to go into next season with the mindset that you can compete for the starting position? Do you have to go in that way?

A: You have to go in and try to compete for the starting spot. Of course, I want to play. If someone is better than me, they're going to play. If I'm better, than I'm going to play. I'm just going to go in and do my best and work hard to try to get the No. 1 spot.

Q: Are you completely committed to playing quarterback? If you get there and in a year it looks like you might be able to get onto the field right away at a different position, would you consider a switch?

A: Right now, I am completely committed to it. But it's a few years down the road and I don't see any potential to playing quarterback, then obviously I would switch so I could get on the field. But right now it's quarterback until I'm told differently.

Q: Have you gotten a chance to look at the Iowa play book? If so, what have you picked up?

A: I looked at it a little bit from my brother (Zack Derby). I started to get some of the calls down in the running game. Probably the hardest part is going to be the protections because there are like 50 or 60 different ones. It's just exciting to get in there and learn it. It's going to be tough, but it's going to be good.

Q: You transferred from Iowa City West to City High, which created some talk. You've been under the microscope for the last year or so as a top recruit. How have you handled those things?

A: I've just tried not to listen to it. I just listen to the people that really matter to me, my family, my close friends. I just get their support and go from there, just brush everything off.

Q: How has your dad helped you through all of this? He's a guy that's been in the spotlight before.

A: He always tells me don't act like you've arrived, which to me means you have to keep trying, keep going. That keeps me working hard. Even if you make it to the pros, the next year somebody is going to be coming to take your spot.

Q: You were a pretty highly regarded basketball prospect early in your prep career. When did the dream switch from basketball to football for you?

A: Honestly, it happened when I got to City High and realized that I was actually a pretty good football player, too. Basketball was always my first love, sports wise. I was bigger than everybody else and could dunk in the seventh grade. Nobody else could really do that, so I saw that being my future. Then, I didn't see the odds of me being a college point guard being very good. That's what I would have had to play. I moved on to football and fell in love with that.

Q: What did City High coach Dan Sabers do for your career?

A: When I got to Coach Sabers, he really pushed me every day, in the weight room, everything. He really made me go hard and it excelled me to be who I am. He always told me not to have a light switch, which means you can't have an on-off switch. You always have to be on, even in the classroom. That really turned it around. It's been awesome.

Q: What are your thoughts about getting a chance to work with Iowa Strength and Conditioning Coach, Chris Doyle?

A: (Laughs). Excited. My brother came back a completely different person after the first semester. Everyone says you get "Doyalized." You get stronger. I'm excited.

Q: What's your best 40 time?

A: 4.6 or something like that.

Q: Do you pay much attention to things like that?

A: No, I really don't. That stuff doesn't really mean anything to me. It's what you can do on the field that really matters. A 40-yard dash on the field is a lot different than a 40-yard dash out in a parking lot.

Q: You grew up an Iowa football fan. When you think about Iowa football, what traits come to mind?

A: Toughness. It's pretty much a big family. I'm really excited about that. Another thing is that Iowa doesn't have pro sports, so everybody in the state of Iowa loves Iowa football.

Q: Did you get a chance to watch the Orange Bowl?

A: Yeah. I stayed up late even though I had to get up at like 6 the next day. It was great. (Rick) Stanzi played great.

Q: Did you get to brag a bit down here (at the Army Bowl)?

A:Yeah, before the game, guys were giving me crap saying that Iowa is going to get their butt kicked. We went to Dave and Buster's and me Andrew (Donnal) and C.J. (Fiedorowicz) sat all by ourselves and watched it. Everybody else was off playing games.

Q: What is your relationship like with Coach (Kirk) Ferentz? How well have you gotten to know him through this recruiting process?

A: I've gotten to know him pretty well. When my brother was getting recruited by him, I got to know him on a little bit different level because he wasn't really recruiting me that hard at that point or offering me a scholarship. So, it was more like a friend deal. So, me and Coach Ferentz were pretty cool. I like him a lot as a person.

Q: How about (offensive coordinator) Ken O'Keefe?

A: I like Coach O'Keefe a lot. He's a good guy.

Q: What has be told you about things they want from you when you come in?

A: Right now all they've said is to come in and learn the system and become part of the team. Work on that and then go from there.

Q: Is there a sense of pride for you being an Iowa kid playing for Iowa?

A: Yeah, being an in-state guy, I'm pretty excited about it. Not too many people from Iowa play at Iowa that often. It's going to be a good deal.

Q: You seemed pretty open to all the schools recruiting you right up until you pulled the trigger for Iowa. Was there something that kicked in or came to you that made you end it?

A: During the summer, I started to get the feeling that I wanted to go to Iowa. I didn't tell anybody. I wanted to take my official visits so I was just telling people that I was still open. It just got to the point where I couldn't wait any longer to commit so I did.

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