Commentary: The tainted legacy of ‘DJK’


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Many Iowa fans felt the 2010 football season could not get any worse.

It just did.

Fewer than two weeks after a seemingly unmotivated effort led to a 27-24 loss at Minnesota, the arrest of senior receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos rocked Hawkeye Nation on Tuesday night.

So now, a team that was already set for an uphill battle against a 10-2 Missouri team in its bowl game just became a bigger underdog. Specifically for Johnson-Koulianos, his NFL draft stock most likely deteriorated from being a mid-round pick to hoping to be signed as an undrafted free agent — at best. And of course, that all depends on how his case plays out in the legal system.

Let’s get real, though — football is not the important thing right now.

Moreso than ruining his NFL aspirations, Johnson-Koulianos has ruined his own story that could have served as such an inspiration.

The entertaining, funny, polite, charismatic young man from Campbell, Ohio, — affectionately known by so many as simply “DJK” — had overcome so much.

Born to a 14-year-old mother, he was orphaned and bounced around a rough Youngstown area.
Not exactly the ideal life track for a young child.

But he persevered through that. He was blessed in the form of his adoptive parents, Lauren and Anthony Koulianos. He transformed himself from a three-star “athlete” recruit into the most productive wide receiver in Iowa history.

He shone perhaps just as bright as any Hawkeye in 2010. He continued to run crisp routes all the way into the Iowa record books, becoming the school’s all-time leading pass-catcher as well as receiving yards leader.

This is one giant step back from all of that progress, sadly.

It’s all tainted now.

And don’t get me wrong. I typically buy into the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty, often even when every other juror in the court of public opinion has prematurely decided on a guilty verdict.

But Johnson-Koulianos reportedly admitted to police Tuesday he knew the controlled substances found at his residence were being used and sold. He also reportedly tested positive for cocaine in a drug test.

That changes things a little bit.

This isn’t the kiddy pool — à la Don Nordmann disorderly house violation or even a Jewel Hampton or Jordan Bernstine PAULA. Not to play down those illegal activities, but we’re talking about some pretty serious stuff here.

But even as serious as the ramifications for Johnson-Koulianos may be, forget about those for a second. Think about what his decisions have caused others, too.

Teammates and coaches have to be disappointed. I won’t speculate about the feelings of his family or close friends.

But what about the fans? Devastation.

“It’s just a bummer,” said Charlie Schaller, an Iowa fan who sat discussing the matter with friends at Buffalo Wild Wings Tuesday night. “The guy had a huge future ahead of him; maybe he still does.

“It’s kind of corny, but it’s kind of like you want a hero. You want that athlete who’s going to go out there and just really live it on and off the field.”

Dramatic? Maybe.

But how could you blame Schaller — or any other fan that shares those feelings?

After all, didn’t DJK give everyone his word on media day?

“When people question who I am and what I stand for and what we’re trying to do at Iowa, I would never go out and do something that would represent our program in a negative light,” he said at the Iowa football team’s media day on Aug. 6 — which was the first (and last) time he met with the media this season.

“I’m not going to go on a booze cruise at 2 a.m.”

No, it wasn’t a booze cruise at 2 a.m. He made good on that part of his word, at least.

Instead, it was a mid-afternoon drug bust at Johnson-Koulianos’ Iowa City house that cast the Iowa football program — and himself — in a negative light.

People can blab about plummeting draft stock all they want.

The biggest item that needs repairing is DJK’s role as an inspiration.

Too bad it may be beyond repair.

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