IOWA CITY — Banished from his college program after a December drug arrest, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos continues his NFL quest outside the parameters of Iowa football.
Johnson-Koulianos worked out before three NFL scouts at Iowa City’s Fit2Live about an hour after the rest of his ex-teammates finished their drills at Iowa’s pro day Monday. He reached personal bests in several categories, including his 40-yard dash time. But he can’t help but think about his missed opportunities, especially not competing before NFL scouts under the Iowa umbrella.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Johnson-Koulianos said in an exclusive interview after his workout. “I’m back at square one. I’m refocused, and I’m more motivated than ever.
“I just made a bad decision, and life’s about decisions. I made a lot of good decisions a lot of the time, but I made a couple bad ones that cost me a couple of rounds, cost me a lot of money, cost me a big part of my fan base and tarnished how people saw me.”
Monday, Johnson-Koulianos stood 5-foot-11 1/2 inches and weighed 200 pounds. His 40-yard dash times of 4.5 and 4.52 seconds were personal bests. He benched pressed 225 pounds 21 times and had a vertical jump of 34.5 inches. At the NFL Combine last month in Indianapolis, only 11 wide receivers posted better 40 times and only two had more bench-press repetitions.
Johnson-Koulianos has no peer in many categories at Iowa. He’s the program’s all-time leader in catches (173) and receiving yards (2,616). He’s third in touchdown receptions (17) and fifth in all-purpose yards (4,231). He’s a four-year starter, led Iowa in receptions for three straight years, caught 14 passes exceeding 20 yards last year and was named first-team all-Big Ten by league coaches.
In 2010, he also led the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 29.3 yard-per-return average, ranking No. 8 nationally. He had seven returns of 30-plus yards, including an 88-yarder for a score at Minnesota that earned him national kick returner of the week honors.
But that productivity faded into memory on Dec. 7, 2010 when Johnson-Koulianos was arrested on six drug counts (he later pleaded guilty to one count). After years of constant friction with the coaching staff, Johnson-Koulianos was severed from the Iowa program following the arrest and did not play in Iowa’s bowl game. He didn’t get to wear his former Iowa football helmet at a college all-star game in February and was not allowed to participate in Iowa’s pro day.
“There’s already been discussion that I’m not getting very good feedback from inside the program,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “I knew that was going to happen. I’m not surprised by that. I think that once people get in front of me and see who I am and for somebody who is out there to give me an opportunity, I would make sure I would prove that exactly right.
“Some people don’t like my style, but I think there will be somebody out there who does. All it takes is one team, and all I need is an opportunity. If that means I have to play for no money and make it by performing, then I’ll do that. My thing is, I’m not too concerned about the destination, I’m more into the journey.”
Johnson-Koulianos gets one more opportunity on April 15-16 in a workout at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. Until then he’ll continue to train with Elias Karras at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, Ill., and hope for a chance at redemption.
“To be honest with you — strangely enough — I like that the odds are against me,” he said. “It’s kind of a reflection of what my personality is — that’s who I’ve always been. It didn’t always look good, but I was able to persevere through it. I don’t think this situation is any different. So I’m embracing it.
“I love where I’m at. It’s not in the brightest tunnel right now but there’s some light there.”