Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories as Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse travel the country to meet the incoming class of freshmen. Here’s a look at 4-star Warren Central (Ind.) defensive back Julius Brents.
INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa’s coaching staff had a two-pronged recruiting strategy when it came to 3-star defensive back Julius Brents.
First, the staff had to win over Brents, which was no easy task. Second, it had win over Brents’ mother, Serena Fowlkes. That proved even more difficult.
Brents (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) played at Warren Central High School in east Indianapolis. His long arms and impressive ball skills make him a dream recruit for Phil Parker’s secondary. But Brents’ mother had questions about how he’d fit in at Iowa.
“There are things that you need to be mindful of,” she said. “I don’t want them to see him as an athlete; I want them to see a young man. How will he be treated as a young man there? The cultural diversity of it, I don’t know that they understood or he understood coming from an inner city and going to a smaller community. But also not experiencing some of the things that he has experienced.”
Fowlkes’ apprehension led to more questions of Brents and the Iowa coaching staff. She wanted for her son to walk to class on any campus as a student, not stand out as an obvious athlete.
Assistant Kelvin Bell is Iowa’s primary recruiter in Indianapolis. Bell grew up in northern Mississippi and understands the cultural differences between Iowa and other locations. Bell played football at Iowa 20 years ago, and he shares those experiences when parents offer concerns.
“I tell them my recruiting story,” said Bell, who is African-American. “That’s as big as anything that I can sell. I can go outside the region because I am not from here. I can tell them my thoughts before visiting Iowa, my thoughts while I was at Iowa and, after I graduated, my reflection on Iowa.
“It’s one of those things that I tell kids, ‘Anything that anyone has told you about Iowa, if it’s been negative, I can guarantee you they have never been there.'”
Brents first met with Bell as a high school sophomore, and Brents admitted he had little knowledge of Iowa. In the recruiting process, Bell was patient and explained what Iowa could do for Brents athletically, academically and socially.
The more Brents learned about Iowa, the more intrigued he became. He liked Iowa’s coaching continuity that largely has held together for 20 years. Brents also saw the NFL players Parker, the Hawkeyes’ defensive coordinator and secondary coach, developed.
“The stability that is there at Iowa is something that stayed in my mind, and I could say the relationship I grew with the coaching staff was important,” Brents said. “They came here kind of early, too, and I respected that that they trusted me when I was younger.”
Brents became more relaxed with each visit to Iowa City. His mother gradually gained acceptance as the process intensified. She liked how open Bell was about Iowa, which led to some frank discussions before they visited Iowa together.
“Once I stepped on campus I said, ‘OK, it was a different feel,'” Fowlkes said. “[Brents] showed me that first day how comfortable he was. He looked like he fit in. Once he did start discussing with me about how he felt, we still had our differences of opinion. But where we’re at today, I’m comfortable. I’m OK with his decision.”
Once his mother was on board, Brents committed to Iowa on Sept. 1, 2017.
“I knew where I wanted to be for the next three-to-four years,” Brents said. “I trusted them, and they trusted me.”
Brents’ physical gifts were apparent early as a youth, his mother said. Football became his favorite sport in the fifth grade.
“I was outside my front yard,” Brents said. “I got a helmet, and I just fell in love with football ever since then.
“I was pretty good at basketball, but it just wasn’t like football. I just love the contact of football.”
Brents grew into a three-year starting defensive back at Warren Central and was rated by Rivals as one of Indiana’s top five players. He battled through ankle injuries, including one that limited him to four games his junior season, to still earn all-conference honors three straight years.
Warren Central defensive backs coach Russ Mann routinely touted Brents’ cover skills on Twitter. When Brents’ signing became official at Iowa, Mann tweeted, “One side of the field will continued to be shutdown! Big10, enjoy completing a pass.”
After Warren Central’s final game last November, Mann’s tweet to Brents was heartfelt.
From day one when you stepped into our DB morning workouts, your talent was immediately noticed!
We are going to miss:
-Bantering with you
-You calling our coverages in 2-min
— Russ Mann (@RussMann09) November 25, 2017
Brents’ position at Iowa is undetermined. The Hawkeyes expect to play him at both free safety and cornerback until identifying a specific role.
“We felt like probably Julius has a lot of position versatility, might be a corner, might be a safety,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this spring. “Really good football player. He’s tall and has a lot of room for growth.”
Brents compares his style of play with Houston Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is known as the Honey Badger. Mathieu’s aggressiveness puts his body in jeopardy, but he makes plays all over the field.
At Iowa, Brents sees himself performing a similar role, regardless of the position.
“They’re going to get a hard worker who’s going to come in and do what the coach tells him to do,” Brents said. “I’ll bring a type of edge to the field that you’re looking for, the type of DB that you want. Someone who will always compete and just looking to dominate the person in front of me. They’re going to get a great player and a great student and student of the game. I just want to come in and work and be coachable and do what I do best, and that’s play football.”
“I saw him as fearless,” Fowlkes said. “Nothing intimidated him. No one intimidated him. He could face the biggest opponent, and he was just another football player to him. That in a way scared me, but he just had no fear. [Opponents] see him as some lanky kid. But as soon as they see him, they’re like, ‘Oh wow.’ Totally different.”
— JuJu (@Jbrents_18) December 10, 2017
Brents comes from a large family. On his mother’s side, Brents has sisters Deja Fowlkes, Ashley Fowlkes, Chandra Fowlkes and Mimi Fowlkes and a brother, Channing Davenport. On his father’s side, he has three younger sisters: Olivia Brents, Amor Brents and Lexi Brents.
Julius, who goes by JuJu, has recorded mostly A’s in classwork and plans to major in pre-business at Iowa. In high school, he participated on student council and the Just Say No club, as well as volunteered at an Indianapolis food bank.
“A hard worker,” said Julius’ father, Vontres Brents. “He listen to his coaches very well, He’s enthusiastic. He’s a leader. That about sums it up.”
Unfortunately, violence also was a part of his upbringing. One of Brents’ best friends and former teammates, Dijon Anderson, was murdered in 2017. Anderson, who was a year older than Brents, started at defensive back at Warren Central and was committed to play football at Southern Illinois.
Brents, his mother and cousin Brandon Warren helped form We Live Indy to honor Anderson and begin an awareness campaign against violence. They held marches in Indianapolis and Chicago. Brents described their mission as “uplifting.”
Anderson’s murder, coupled with other friends’ deaths from violence and cancer, have affected Brents, his mother said.
“For these youths to experience death like this regardless of how it happened, it put a different perspective into him,” Fowlkes said. “That’s why when we came to Iowa, it was a big difference. Because we could wake up in the morning and hear gun shots and different things of that nature. When I turned on the news when I was in Iowa, you didn’t hear that. I think that also made a difference on him.
“[He said,] ‘Mom, I’m just tired. I’m tired of being a part of funerals.’ ”
Moving to Iowa provides Brents with a chance to focus on football and school with less likelihood of violence. Indiana ranks 15th nationally in number of homicides, according to National Center of Health Statistics. Iowa ranks 36th. Brents is comfortable with Iowa, and his mother is, too.
“After talking to the coaches and meeting parents and meeting other students, I feel like Julius made a good choice,” Fowlkes said.
From his charming personality to his football prowess to his academic profile, Brents has earned plaudits from those close to him. Perhaps no words were as heartfelt as those spoken by his father.
As he sat on a couch next to his son, Vontres’ voice trailed off and his eyes started to well up.
“I’m just happy for him,” he said. “Proud. I couldn’t ask for a better son.”