Hawkeye Nick Niemann embraces football family
His father coaches at Rutgers and his older brother plays for the Kansas City Chiefs — Football runs in Nick Niemann's family.
September 20, 2018
It was fourth-and-2 at the Hawkeye 39-yard line for Northern Illinois in a scoreless game near the end of the first quarter.
The Huskies went for it, trying a jet sweep to the right, but immediately after D.J. Brown got the handoff, Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann slammed him to the turf.
That was a big play for Niemann, who was starting his first game for Iowa. It wasn’t his first tackle, but it was the first one that really got people’s attention.
Since then, Niemann has continued to make plays for the Hawkeye defense, racking up 12 tackles, including 2 for losses and a sack in the first three games.
While making an impact early in the season was big for Niemann individually to help solidify his starting spot, it also came with a sigh of relief from Iowa fans. Entering the season, the linebacker role was a big question mark; Iowa had lost three multiyear starters to graduation and was trying to replace them with young, inexperienced players.
Oddly enough, the Hawkeye that Niemann replaced was his older brother, Ben Niemann. Having to replace a brother, particularly one who started three years, racked up 201 tackles, and earned a spot on the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent might seem like a lot of pressure for a younger brother.
Nick didn’t see it that way.
“It wasn’t a burden,” he said. “I mean, obviously, he’s a good player, and I know I can follow in his footsteps and have a chance to be as good as he was. But I’m my own person, so each game I just try to play Nick Niemann.”
Of course, for the younger Niemann, performing on the football field is just what he does — it may have been the very thing he was born to do.
A Football Family
For Nick Niemann, football runs in the family. His father, Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann, has had several coaching gigs around college football, and that is where Nick Niemann got his introduction to the sport.
“Ever since I was born, my mom took me to my dad’s games in a stroller,” Niemann said. “So pretty much for as long as I can remember, [football’s] all I’ve known.”
Both Nick and Ben Niemann’s love of football started on their father’s practice field, then transitioned onto their own field in fourth grade, when he joined his brother on one of Indianola’s youth football teams.
Being brothers and teammates from a young age helped them form a special relationship.
The Niemann brothers were teammates once again when they played at Sycamore High School, until Ben Niemann left for college.
Shortly after Ben Niemann left, it was Nick Niemann’s turn to pick a college, and, unlike his brother, he had a plethora of choices where he could go.
From the beginning of Nick Niemann’s process of choosing a school, Iowa was atop the list because of his older brother.
“They had made the decision that if they could, they wanted to play together,” said Jay Niemann in an exclusive interview with The Daily Iowan.
While Iowa may have been the top option from the get-go, Jay Niemann wanted to make sure Nick Niemann considered all his options, which involved 18 to 20 offers, including ones from Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa State.
Ultimately, Nick Niemann chose to be teammates with his brother one last time.
“I knew at the end of the day it would come full circle,” Jay Niemann said. “I think deep down, he knew he wanted to play with Ben and that he would end up [at Iowa].”
Ben and Nick Niemann share a special connection, but part of what comes with any healthy brotherly bond is competition, and there was no shortage of that for the Niemann brothers.
“[We’re] pretty competitive,” Nick Niemann said. “Ben and I have been like that since we started playing sports and were around each other, whether it was in the driveway, the backyard, [or] the basement. It’s always been like that.”
Wrestling matches between the two were a staple from the time they were little, and even today, they can still break out from time-to-time.
That competitive nature has factored into Nick Niemann’s success so far this fall.
“They’ve always been extremely competitive,” said Lou Ann Niemann, Nick Niemann’s mother. “I think the fact that Ben was a three-year starter at Iowa was fairly motivating for Nick.”
Whatever the reason, both Niemann brothers have had exhilarating starts to the football season, and it all cumulated in one joyous moment for their mother.
After a tense August, with Ben Niemann fighting for a spot on the Chiefs and Nick Niemann vying for a starting spot on the Hawkeyes, the Niemanns experienced a waterfall of good news.
Nick Niemann won a starting spot on the Hawkeyes and, moments before his first start in a Hawkeye uniform, the Niemanns found out Ben had made the Chiefs’ final cut.
“I was squealing,” Lou Ann Niemann said. “It was so emotional just watching Nick run out of the tunnel and take the field starting, and then my phone rings, and Ben said, ‘I made it, I’m on the roster at KC,’ and I had just figured out that Rutgers had finished its game and won, so definitely a special day that I will never forget.”
Can we get another Niemann?
When looking at the two Niemann brothers in football uniforms, it would be nearly impossible to tell them apart — just one pound and one inch separate the two physically (Nick Niemann goes 6-4, 232 pounds, Ben Niemann 6-3, 233).
“They pretty much look the same,” Jay Niemann said. “Their frames, their length, their thickness, it’s almost a carbon copy.”
Along with their similar frame, the two brothers also have developed into incredibly similar players on the field.
“[Nick] reminds me a lot of his brother Ben,” said Jake Gervase, who has started alongside both brothers. “Fast, athletic, can make plays both in the running and the passing game.”
Being tall and athletic are two essential traits to being a good linebacker, and they can’t be taught, which means both have been dream players for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. He is left yearning for more Niemanns.
“I wish there was another brother coming,” he said. “Ben played that position really well for quite a while, but Nick has just kind of jumped in there, and it doesn’t seem like we’re dropping off at all.”
Of course, more than just length and speed have contributed to Nick Niemann’s early success as a Hawkeye.
All that football he was around as a kid surely rubbed off, giving him a unique edge.
“Just by being around the game, I think he’s got some instinctive qualities that somehow come along with being the son of a coach,” Jay Niemann said.
Length, speed, and instinct are all terrific starting ingredients for a football player, but that deadly combination means nothing without motivation.
Luckily, Niemann appears to have that, too.
“Nick has always been very driven and very motivated,” Lou Ann Niemann said. “When he puts his mind to something, he’s very motivated to achieve whatever it is.”