There are plenty of similarities between Desmond King and Jourdan Lewis. Both hail from Detroit. Both are seniors at Big Ten schools. Both are All-American cornerbacks. Both are even listed at the same height of 5-foot-11.
Most surprising of all, though, is that both could have left their respective college football teams for the NFL after last season, yet neither decided to. King and Lewis returned for their senior years following standout performances that included eight interceptions and 20 pass breakups, respectively, and now they have the chance to see each other once again when Michigan and Iowa meet Saturday night.
As both built reputations as All-Americans, opposing teams learned not to throw their way. King only has one interception this season — against Purdue — but that’s only because opposing quarterbacks don’t want to test him. Lewis, on the other hand, has had similar numbers for the same reason.
Though Lewis takes it as a compliment, it’s also dissatisfying.
“We talked about it after the Purdue game,” Lewis said. “(King is) just frustrated that he’s not getting as many throws as he got last year. I’m like, ‘Man, just stay the course.’ He did score at the Purdue game, so I’m just like, man, he’s a competitor, just like me. He’s definitely a guy who understands that when you get your chances, you take full advantage.”
Though King is disappointed, Lewis has never seen him as the type to back down from a challenge.
“He always had a chip on his shoulder, always wanted to be the best and he was, actually,” Lewis said. “Ever since his sophomore year (of high school), he had 10 picks a season. We knew he was one of the best, but he always had that chip on his shoulder. … You can see it right now, he’s excelling right now in his amazing season.”
As of Tuesday night, Lewis hadn’t yet reached out King to discuss the ensuing matchup between the Hawkeyes and the Wolverines. He laughed when he thought about what that conversation would be like, unsure if it would be playful smack talk or not.
The two go all the way back to little-league football, playing on different teams at first, until they ended up on the same one. Lewis noticed how creative King was with the ball right away, even at a young age.
“The year after (we played against each other), he came and played with us and we kinda bumped heads a little bit,” Lewis said. “It was more competitive than anything else. But yeah, it was just a bond that we created over the years.
“We just wanted the minutes and we saw who got the minutes each and every week, who got the ball. It definitely made us better players.”
In high school, the two went their separate ways, Lewis to Detroit Cass Tech and King to Crockett. King would ultimately graduate from East English Village Prep after Crockett closed in 2012, but before that, Cass Tech and Crockett would face off every season. Even if Lewis and King were no longer practicing together, they would always see each other in at least one game.
“We played Crockett every year in the city playoffs and they beat us every year,” Lewis said. “He definitely showed out and I did what I did, but it was definitely competitive all the way until now.”
Though King isn’t recording the interception and pass breakup numbers he did during his junior season, he’s still turning heads on kick returns, averaging 29.2 yards per return for a total of 526 yards.
Part of what makes him so good, according to special teams and tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh, is that he can dodge the initial defender.
“If you can’t make that first guy miss, you don’t have a chance, and that’s what he does a really good job of,” Harbaugh said.
Regardless of how King makes it into the box score, Michigan fans will notice his impact Saturday — something that Lewis has more experience with than anyone.
“I’m excited to see him,” Lewis said. “I’m excited to see what he does.”