Iowa LB Djimon Colbert Comes Up Big in First College Start
IOWA CITY, IOWA – Djimon Colbert stood in the Iowa locker room after Saturday’s big win against rival Iowa State and exhaled. He’d started his first college game and succeeded in what he’d prepared hard to do.
One of the first people to pat him on the back was former high school teammate Aaron Mends. The Hawkeye senior could have been playing the weak-side linebacker spot Colbert occupied if not for a season-ending knee injury suffered in the spring.
His tutelage of Colbert has been invaluable. It was something that started when they were attending Kansas City Winnetonka High. It’s become a special bond.
“Having an older guy that I’ve kind of known for a while that is at the same college playing the same position, just being around a guy like that really helps a young guy like me in my progression as a football player,” Colbert said.
Colbert, a redshirt freshman, helped the Hawkeyes to a 13-3 victory against the Cyclones with five tackles. He held up well in run support and in the pass defense.
“I thought he did a lot of good things. He looked confident, first of all, which is not always the case for a guy. He hasn’t played at all, so for him to be out there doing that, that was really good,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Colbert (6-1, 234) showed up at Iowa as a three-star safety in the ’17 recruiting class from Shawnee Mission (KS) Bishop Miege, where he played his senior season. He chose the Hawkeyes over offers from Iowa State and Nebraska. The coaches felt they could convert him to linebacker.
He hesitated at the switch initially. Moving down to the box, needing to read the plays faster and going up against offensive linemen concerned him. That went away when he lined up there and starting running around.
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“Once I got down in there and once I got the feel I was like, yeah this is kind of fun. You’re closer to the ball so you can make more plays. I just made the best of it,” he said.
Colbert credited veterans Mends, Kristian Welch and Amani Jones for helping with his transition.
“They kind of welcomed me to the family. I think that was the biggest part of my advancement of being a linebacker,” he said.
Welch started the season-opener against Northern Illinois but missed last week’s game with an injury. He was listed as Colbert’s backup on the latest depth chart.
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“We’ll see how that goes this week, how they both practice,” Ferentz said.
Welch began his Iowa career at LEO linebacker. He started spring practice as the No. 1 MIKE. He played well as the starting WIL during Iowa’s 33-7 Week win against Northern Illinois, leading the Hawkeyes with 11 tackles to go with a sack, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
While he’s a bigger presence at WIL, Colbert brings a high level of athleticism that had Iowa eying him as a safety coming out of high school. He’s kept that natural ability and brought it to linebacker.
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“When we play man coverage you always have to buzz your feet at the snap. Stuff like that that I carry from playing safety to linebacker is just important. You back pedal a lot as a linebacker towards our drop coverages and you have to know how to keep our leverage. All that stuff was pretty important. It’s big time that I could carry that from safety to linebacker,” he said.
Colbert weighed 212 pounds when he showed up at Iowa last June. He progressively added 22 pounds and did not lose a step.
“I credit that to coach (Chris) Doyle and the strength program that we have here. I wasn’t just eating. A lot of it was muscle weight. It went to the right places. I knew when I made the transition to linebacker that I was going to get stronger, get bigger,” he said.
He performed well in practice while red shirting last fall. He carried that forward this spring and pushed for the starting WIL spot in training camp during August before losing out to Welch. While Ferentz was confident in the freshman’s ability, he was pleasantly surprised with how well Colbert performed in a rivalry game on national television.
“You’re just never quite sure how a guy is going to react, and that’s a big game for us. He could have shrunk, but I didn’t see him do that. He was running around making some plays and looked confident and looked comfortable for a guy who’s never really played a significant amount of snaps, so it’s a real good starting point for him, certainly,” the coach said.