INDIANAPOLIS — As Iowa fans rushed the Kinnick Stadium surface last November, seconds after a 14-13 upset of No. 3 Michigan, Hawkeyes cornerback Desmond King sprinted to the Wolverines sideline.
King found fellow cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and the two embraced briefly. Then Lewis walked to the locker room, and King started to celebrate.
They wore different uniforms that night in Iowa City, but King and Lewis have a bond closer than many brothers. Along with Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell, the trio played youth football for the Westside Cubs, a Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) squad.
Now they are days from fulfilling lifelong goals of becoming NFL players. All three are projected to hear their names by the end of the third round on Friday night.
“We always had dreams of growing up to make it to the league, and we actually did,” McDowell said. “We got this far, so now we’re trying to get in there and actually make some plays, make some shine, really.”
William Tandy knew of King and Lewis well before they were old enough to join the 13-year-old Westside Cubs. By age 9, they were shredding Detroit’s youth football scene. Tandy couldn’t wait to coach them when they reached the Cubs. Then they became even more impressive and won the 2009 Detroit PAL title.
“On the football field, those guys dominated,” Tandy said. “They won games by 30 or 40 points, blowing the competition away.
“[Lewis] was Reggie Bush and Buddha [King] was Barry Sanders. Guys that just had an outstanding talent at a very early age.
“Malik McDowell was one of those young men who developed. He was uncoordinated a little bit because he was so big when he was younger. He ended up being a hard worker and did extremely well.”
The players learned life lessons away from football as well. Tandy’s motto of “God, Books and Ball” resonated with the players over the years. There were times when players had to finish homework at practice before suiting up. It was a focal point with King, who received his Iowa degree in 3 1/2 years.
Since leaving the Cubs, each has received high accolades in college football. King won the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Lewis was a finalist for the award in 2016. Both were named first-team All-Big Ten defensive backs in 2016, and both received All-America honors. McDowell was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season.
“It’s a testament to that organization as a whole, that rich tradition,” Lewis said. “All of us coming from the same little league team, it says a lot about the coaches and mentoring we have.”
“Think about it, I had two kids going up for that [Thorpe] trophy,” Tandy said. “It made my chest a little bigger.”
All three players attended the NFL combine in March. Their draft projections range from late first round to early third round. King (5-foot-10, 206 pounds) could transition from cornerback to safety or nickel. Lewis (5-10, 188) is a pure cover corner who could move to the slot. McDowell (6-6, 295) projects to either defensive end or defensive tackle.
“Seeing two guys that you grew up with, three guys out of the city of Detroit, all of us have been knowing each other since we were a child, it’s a positive to see other guys from the city where you come from [who are] actually at the same level as you competing and having so much success,” King said.
Based on proximity, Tandy — now the coach at Loyola High School — followed Lewis’ career the closest. But the players’ success has brought him pride.
“It’s almost like watching your children take their first step,” Tandy said. “It brings a glow to you because you know the hard work that those kids put in.”