Alexander John Derby appears likely to be Arkansas' starting quarterback against Rutgers, one of the swing games that could determine if the Razorbacks go to a bowl game this year. So let's see if we can learn a little more about him beyond what we saw against Southern Miss last week.
Bret Bielema played with Derby's father John at Iowa, and recruited A.J. to play quarterback at Wisconsin but Derby chose to stay home at Iowa. Rivals.com rated Derby a 4* athlete in high school, reporting offers from Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Stanford, and many others, but most of those schools apparently wanted him to play positions other than quarterback.
"Most recruiting Web sites just have me listed as an ‘athlete,’ like I might play something else," Derby told Iowa Prep Sports. He was listed on the U.S. Army All-American Bowl roster as a defensive back but played quarterback and finished 1 of 6, and many Iowa fans were intrigued by his potential to be the quarterback of the future. Unfortunately, his Iowa career was never able to take off as hoped.
Derby spent two years as a Hawkeye (the first was a redshirt year)before transferring to Coffeyville Community College. Our friends at Black Heart Gold Pants weren't thrilled with his decision to leave. He played quarterback in two games at Iowa, completing 3 of 6 passes. He was suspended for two games midseason after being charged with public intox and punching a bus window (although nothing compared to his former teammate/brother Zach's BAC score) and was switched to linebacker upon his return.
He played in 10 games at Coffeyville, completing 149 passes out of 321 attempts (46.4%) for 1,936 yards and 22 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. His team went 6-4 during those 10 games.
Derby came to Arkansas as a walk-on and was in Fayetteville for spring practice. He didn't play much in the spring game since Brandon Mitchell was still on the roster and had the #2 quarterback slot locked up. He did see a little action in the spring game, throwing two passes. One was a 35-yard touchdown and the other was an interception.
In the one fall scrimmage open to the public, Derby was 9-for-18 for 108 yards. Bielema appears to have a lot of confidence in Derby, despite the incredibly conservative play calling in the Southern Miss game. Here's what he had to say this week about the possibility of him starting at Rutgers:
"I’m excited for A.J. for two reasons. First, I’ve known him for along time and he’s a tremendous competitor. He’s kind of a football junkie. The second thing is, because of his evolution as a player, he started at Iowa, went through some adversity,then went to a junior college and played a lot. It’s not like he just sat on the bench somewhere else as a reserve. He was the starting quarterback and was involved in game decisions. I know as junior college versus the SEC, (this week) is not the SEC but versus a BCS opponent, but it’s still football and that gets you excited."
From all indications, it appears Derby is a tremendous athlete but never been an elite passer. On multiple occasions in the research of this piece, he's been described as a Tim Tebow-type. It will be interesting to see, if in fact he is the starter, if the offense will look much different after having a week to prepare with him behind center. Might we see more option-types of plays or designed quarterback runs, anything to take advantage of his athleticism?
It will be interesting to watch.
Recommended: His ArkansasRazorbacks.com bio
and from Black Heart Gold Pants: The Curious Case of A.J. Derby.