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Nothing easy, everything earned: Daviyon Nixon’s path to Iowa football

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon prepares to tackle during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon prepares to tackle during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon prepares to tackle during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon prepares to tackle during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Nothing easy, everything earned: Daviyon Nixon’s path to Iowa football

It’s been several years since Daviyon Nixon committed to play football at Iowa. He’s now earned a spot on the roster, but his journey since high school has been arduous and testing.

September 5, 2019

Daviyon Nixon has always smiled a lot, especially while playing football.

But those smiles became strained following his senior year in high school. After the Kenosha, Wisconsin, native committed to play football at Iowa in 2017, Nixon failed to qualify for school academically, making the defensive tackle’s trail to college football longer and more difficult. He decided to take a step back and go to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs to work on his grades and his game, with the eventual goal of transferring to Iowa.

It was a long year for Nixon, who said he received guidance and support from Hawkeye football coaches throughout the journey.

The turbulence and turmoil he experienced tested his positive attitude, but on a day late in 2017, he started smiling again. A big football school down south noticed the work he had done in Council Bluffs, and it offered him a chance to play football there. He had received the ultimate reward in college football: an offer from the University of Alabama.

“The first thing I did was get on the phone and call the coaches here at Iowa, and I told them I just got an offer from Alabama,” Nixon said. “They just said, ‘Congratulations, but we’ve been here.’ And that was true.”

His dominance interested Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. In Nixon’s lone year at Iowa Western, the 6-3, 309-pounder tallied 44 tackles and 5 sacks, enough to earn a second-team all-conference selection.

Iowa noticed that kind of talent far earlier than Alabama did. At Indian Trail High in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Nixon amassed first-team all-state and first-team all-conference accolades, along with a three-star recruit rating. Iowa leaped on the opportunity and offered him a spot. But of course, anything resembling interest from Alabama tempts even the most committed recruit.

Still, though, Nixon’s eyes remained on Iowa City and completing what he had set out to do in Council Bluffs.

“He was excited,” said Scott Strohmeier, Nixon’s head coach at Iowa Western. “And then he was thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to open my recruitment back up.’ We sat down with him and got talking to his dad and said, ‘You chose Iowa. Why? Coaches, the program.’ It’s what he stands for, just those blue-collar, hard-nosed kids. That’s how they develop players at Iowa. We told him, ‘Don’t get caught up just because it’s Alabama, or all those other schools that were offering. Iowa trusted in you and they’re still honoring that scholarship.’”

So, he remained on his original track. Nixon’s stint in Council Bluffs was partially documented by the Netflix series Last Chance U. The show highlights junior colleges across the country that serve as landing pads for players, like Nixon, who face behavioral or academic challenges.

In 2017, the show followed Independence Community College in Kansas — a team highlighted by transfers from powerhouse schools, like Florida State. It just so happened that Iowa Western faced off against Independence that year, with Nixon checking in as Iowa Western’s starting defensive tackle. Strohmeier, Nixon said, wanted nothing of it and prided himself in running an undramatic program.

“[Strohmeier] was just like, ‘Let’s play for us and not for Last Chance U,’” Nixon said. “I like watching the show. It’s a good show, a lot of my teammates watch it. I said, ‘Coach, why aren’t we on Last Chance U?’ He said, ‘We don’t want to give out the drama that comes with it, and there’s no drama here.”

That same lack of drama in Council Bluffs kept Nixon focused throughout his time there. The attitude at Iowa Western, paired with humbling facilities, kept him grounded, Nixon said.

Katina Zentz
Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon prepares to tackle during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

“Going through that adversity just taught me a lot,” he said. “I learned to be humble and grateful for everything you have, honestly. Going there, we didn’t have the best practice field. But we had a practice field to practice on. It taught me that you live and you learn, and you’ve got to be grateful for everything.”

Strohmeier is in his 10th year at Iowa Western, so he knows what comes with being a Reiver.

“I like to say we model our program like Division-1s do,” Strohmeier said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources they have. But the thing is, I can put players out on the field and win a whole bunch of games, but if they’re not doing things the right way, they’re not making it to the next level, which ultimately is not making my program any better. I’m not very proud if I have a kid who’s that talented, and I’m not making him a better person, a better student, a better football player.”

Nixon embodied that mindset, largely through his positive outlook. He loves playing football, Strohmeier said, and that’s what makes him a special player to coach.

That positive attitude kept him on path to get to the Division-1 level. And it’s starting to help him thrive.

After he transferred to Iowa in 2018, Nixon redshirted last season due to NCAA rules and spent time on Iowa’s practice squad. That year on the practice squad was fairly unrewarding for Nixon. That’s why last fall, he entered the transfer portal to see if he could garner an offer and possibly leave Iowa. Again, his journey received another wrinkle.

“I entered the transfer portal because I was having second thoughts about whether or not I wanted to be here, and whether I was wanted here,” he said. “But after talking to coaches and things like that, I just knew this was always the place.”

Once he realized that, there was no looking back. Nixon had invested too many years of his life in trying to get to Iowa to be deterred, but he still relied on the same attributes to keep him going. He says the positive energy he shows, while unique for a defensive lineman, remains one of his strongest assets.

“I just bring energy,” he said. “I bring a lot of energy. A lot of people say I bring a lot of energy and a lot of happiness. I bring smiles and stuff like that, that’s my biggest thing. Especially for the defensive line, they’re always angry. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point in playing?”

Just a few weeks ago, Nixon was formally given a spot on Iowa’s depth chart. He played his first real snap of football since Iowa Western’s bowl game in December 2017 against Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31.

“It [had] been a long time,” he said. “Sometimes, I think like it [was] a bad thing, but really it’s a good thing. Because every day I’m coming out here, and I’m learning something new, thanks to the coaches and my teammates. I’m just getting better and better. I feel like my game has elevated even more so than being in the game. It’s just practice and repetition.”

Despite the rumors of transfer, the academic disqualification, and the Alabama offer, Iowa was always lurking. Iowa offered Nixon a place before anyone else, and it was there in full support as he struggled through his lows. All of that was an investment — the coaching staff was impressed with Nixon’s performances throughout training camp.

“Daviyon looks good,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said shortly after the team’s training camp. “He’s in good shape right now, probably the best shape he’s been in his life. He’s done a nice job.”

Nixon’s journey is a tale of personal growth. His parents, he said, helped him realize that the turbulent path to Iowa was just his own story, and that his faith and work ethic give him limitless tools to work with.

“Honestly, it’s been like reading a book,” Nixon said. “Really, you know, you go through every day, you turn [to] the next page. And the more and more you read, the more and more you learn. And the more and more you appreciate your life and the game of football.”

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