By DARREN MILLER
ATLANTA — Bob Stoops won 190 football games in 18 seasons as head coach at the University of Oklahoma, frequently stocking the Sooners roster with student-athletes from the Dallas area.
Stoops, who retired from coaching in June, will present the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award on Thursday evening at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in the College Football Hall of Fame. University of Iowa redshirt junior Joshua Jackson is a finalist for the award as the nation’s best defensive back.
Jackson is from Corinth, Texas, 35 miles northwest of Dallas.
“I told (Jackson) he is a guy down in the Dallas area that we don’t usually overlook, so we blew it at Oklahoma not trying to recruit Josh,” Stoops said Thursday morning at a breakfast honoring the Thorpe finalists. “Good for Iowa and coach (Kirk) Ferentz, they found a great, great player.”
Stoops played safety for the Hawkeyes from 1979-82. He coached two Jim Thorpe Award winners during his time at Oklahoma — Roy Williams in 2001 and Derrick Strait in 2003.
What did Stoops want from his defensive back recruits?
“You look for great athletes, guys who can change direction and compete,” Stoops said. “Guys who are tough and competitive. You look for athletes, not just on the football field. I was big on watching them on the basketball court — I loved it when they were part of the basketball team as well. Of course, you have to have character and grades to have an opportunity.”
That blueprint summarizes the credentials of this year’s finalists for the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award: Jackson, DeShon Elliott of Texas, and Minkah Fitzgerald of Alabama. Jackson leads the nation in passes defended (25) and is tied for the national lead with seven interceptions.
“I loved watching (Jackson) through the year,” Stoops said. “I had an opportunity to see more games this year being off the sidelines. Josh stood out. Every game he was making plays and making interceptions, breaking the ball up and involved in the defense. He was fun to watch.”
Prior to the 2017 season, Jackson had one start and 18 total tackles. He has started all 12 games this season for the 7-5 Hawkeyes, compiling 47 tackles, 18 pass breakups, seven interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), a blocked kick, and a forced fumble. Jackson also returned five punts for 36 yards.
Jackson is the second Iowa finalist for the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award in the last three seasons; Desmond King, now of the Los Angeles Chargers, was the recipient in 2015. Not only are King and Jackson qualified on the field, they excelled off the field and in the locker room.
“It means a great deal to have leaders and character guys that are team guys who are going to do the work and do things the right way,” Stoops said. “Those are the guys who build the strength of the team.”
The Home Depot College Football Awards Show gets underway Thursday at 6 p.m. (CT) on ESPN. Along with the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award, Disney Sports will present the Iowa football program with the Disney Sports Spirit Award that annually goes to the sport’s most inspirational figure. Stoops received the award in 2014; Iowa will receive it because of the Kinnick Wave at the end of the first quarter of home games.