How Iowa football’s Kaevon Merriweather went from a basketball recruit to a Power Five safety

The 6-foot, two-sport athlete received two basketball scholarship offers before he embraced his football career.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather poses for a portrait during Iowa football media day at Iowa football’s practice facility on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Merriweather, one of Iowa’s selections to attend Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis at the end of July, had one interception in 2021 and 42 total tackles.

Kaevon Merriweather didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school.

The Iowa safety’s career didn’t start because he loved the game. He joined his high school team because of his mother.

“I was in his ear about working out,” LaTanya Franklin, Merriweather’s mother, said. “He had a basketball offer, and I was like, ‘Kaevon, you’re not about to sit in the house … you got to go work out, call your trainer, get some workouts in, it’s go time. You gotta get a scholarship.’”

One morning, he left the house for basketball practice and came back late in the evening, Franklin said. When she asked where he was, Merriweather told her he joined the football team.

“He’s like, ‘Oh, I was at football practice,’” Franklin said. “‘I started playing football. I figured I might as well get the free workout.’”

Merriweather didn’t think he would play football past high school. As a point guard, he received basketball offers from Western Michigan and NCAA Division II Ferris State.

Merriweather played one year of football at Romulus High School near Detroit, Michigan, before moving to Belleville High School for his senior year.

Although he was good at football, he didn’t plan to play in his senior year. Bellville’s coach, Jermain Crowell, however, had other plans.

“The coach called him up and was like, ‘Hey, I heard you’re fast. I heard you can jump. Come play football,’” Franklin said. “And my son is like, ‘I got a basketball scholarship offer, I’m not playing football.’”

But Crowell was persistent, Franklin said, and Merriweather eventually agreed to play one final season of high school football at Belleville. The now-6-foot, 212-pounder recorded 43 solo tackles in his senior season and came to a realization — he could get to the NFL with his skill.

Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather celebrates a safety during a football game between Iowa and Kent State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan) (Jerod Ringwald)

“He was like, ‘I got people 6’8” that can do what I do [in basketball],’” Franklin said. “He was like, ‘Worst-case scenario, I go overseas, I make six figures.’ He was like, ‘But with football, with my speed and my athleticism, I have a shot at going to the league.’”

So, Merriweather went from a basketball player with Division I offers to a Power Five football recruit in his final year of high school.

Merriweather was a late addition to the Hawkeyes’ 2018 signing class. According to *247 Sports*, he only had one football offer: Iowa. The 3-star recruit committed to Iowa on Feb. 2, 2018, and signed a national letter of intent with the Hawkeyes five days later.

Throughout his five years with the Hawkeyes, Merriweather has grown into a veteran leader and an NFL prospect.

“It’s incredible, because I think coming into high school, I don’t think I envisioned myself being in the position I am now,” Merriweather said.

“I’m here, you know, living a childhood dream,” he added. “Every day I get to play football. I’m living the childhood dream of playing at such a high level.”

Growing into the game

Iowa was the only school to offer Merriweather a football scholarship, but that didn’t matter. His family fell in love with the school as soon as they arrived.

“When I went to Iowa, everybody there was so friendly,” Franklin said. “It was just unreal to me … I felt so comfortable. I felt at peace when I left him in June.”

While Merriweather got comfortable with Iowa City, he recognized he had some work to do. Merriweather knew he was behind his teammates in football IQ because he had only been playing the game since 2016.

So, Merriweather took every opportunity he could to catch up with his fellow Hawkeyes throughout summer camp and his first year.

Merriweather roomed with Armani Hooker, a veteran safety, during his first couple years at Iowa. Everywhere the pair went, Merriweather said he constantly asked Hooker, who is now in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, about his play.

Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker intercepts a Maryland pass during a football game between Iowa and Maryland in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, October 20, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Terrapins, 23-0. (Shivansh Ahuja)

“I was always asking questions,” Merriweather said. “‘Why did you do this? How did you do this? Why are you looking at this? Why did you call this?’”

Merriweather’s curiosity and love for learning didn’t start with Hawkeye football, LaTanya Franklin said. When Merriweather was just six years old, he asked for a computer for his birthday.

Originally, Franklin said no. But Merriweather was persistent in getting a laptop, and asked her almost every day until she agreed.

“He didn’t ask for an XBox, a Playstation, a Nintendo, nothing,” Franklin said. “He was like, ‘I want a laptop so I can be smart.’ And he actually used that laptop for that. Like, when he would be playing basketball, he would look up teams.”

Franklin said she tried to foster curiosity in both of her sons while they were growing up. She let both of them talk incessantly about everything they learned in school when she picked them up for the day — even if all she wanted was peace and quiet.

More than anything, Franklin wanted her sons to be leaders.

“She has definitely made me and my brother leaders,” Merriweather’s brother Dion Franklin said of his mother. “I lead on and off the field, in the classrooms, all types of stuff, just because of her raising me up right.”

Becoming a leader

From a young age, Merriweather has strived to be a leader.

He got straight A’s all through elementary school, was the student council president in fifth grade, and served as a youth ambassador throughout middle school.

But when he was young, Merriweather struggled with one crucial task. While he could easily talk to his classmates and others his age, he was afraid to talk to adults.

So, Franklin made the young Merriweather talk to adults as often as possible — including at the bowling alley.

Iowa defensive back Kaevon Merriweather asks tight end Sam Laporta who the best basketball player on the football team is during the Vrbo Citrus Bowl Day for Kids at Fun Spot America Theme Park in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. Citrus Bowl Day for Kids is a 2022 Vrbo Citrus Bowl sponsored event that hosts both Iowa and Kentucky. Players from both teams grouped up with children and participated in rides and various activities around the theme park. LaPorta responded to Merriweather’s question saying the Merriweather is the best basketball player on the team. (Grace Smith)

Franklin used to bowl, and Merriweather would join her when he was young. Once, when Merriweather was five years old, the ball got stuck in the pins, and he had to go up to the counter to tell the staff.

“He was only like five, and I was like, ‘Go to the counter and tell them, ‘Ball on 10,’’” Franklin said. “I know he didn’t know what it meant, so I told him, ‘Go to the counter and tell them that, I’m watching you, go do it.’ And he was like, ‘No, Mom, I don’t want to go up there,’ and I said, ‘No, go up to the counter and tell them, ‘Ball on 10.’’

“That’s how I started breaking him out of his shell at a really, really young age, because I don’t want him afraid. I was shy growing up. I don’t want him to be shy.”

By the time Merriweather came to Iowa City, he was well-spoken and outgoing. He won the first Duke Slater Golden Gavel Award, which is presented by beat reporters to “the Iowa football player who not only is most cooperative with local media, but exhibits themself with professional integrity in all interactions.”

As a fifth-year senior in the defensive back room, Merriweather’s leadership role has grown.

He’s been a team captain for the first three games of the 2022 season. Merriweather is also a two-year member of the Hawkeye football program’s player council.

“I think I am naturally drawn to that leadership position that I have now,” Merriweather said. “I kind of naturally just just grew into being a leader on my team over time, just gaining the trust of my teammates and always using my voice to always speak about whatever it was in our lives.”

Merriweather has been mentoring and rooming with freshman safety Xavier Nwankpa this season — creating a relationship similar to the one he had with Hooker.

Iowa defensive back Xavier Nwankpa high fives fans after a spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (Dimia Burrell)

Nwankpa is a 5-star safety out of Southeast Polk High School. Despite his status, he’s still had ample questions about the Iowa defense.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Nwankpa said at Iowa football media day Aug. 12.“He’s a leader on and off the field. He runs, basically, our DB room when (defensive coordinator Phil)Parker’s not in it, so he definitely gets me up to speed on everything.”

Merriweather, along with cornerback Riley Moss, is one of the leaders of the ‘Doughboys,’ which is what Iowa’s secondary named itself during the 2021 season.

Nwankpa is one of six newcomers in Iowa’s defensive back room. Koen Entringer, TJ Hall, Deshaun Lee, Kael Kolarik, and Carter Erickson also joined the Doughboys’ ranks this fall.

“There are a lot of guys who are definitely willing to learn, especially X,” Merriweather said. “That’s good when you have young guys who come in and want to learn and are willing to take what knowledge you have and try to put that to their game as well.”

Planning for success

Merriweather has one primary post-college goal — make enough money so his mother can retire.

While Franklin tried to tell him he didn’t need to do that, Merriweather was persistent.

“He was like, ‘I can make enough money to retire you.’” Franklin said. “And he told me, like, ‘That’s my ultimate goal. You work hard all your life to take care of me and my brother.’ He was like, ‘I want to retire you.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ So that’s how he decided football. And that’s been his motivating factor.”

Merriweather talked a lot about going to the NFL when he was in high school, Franklin said, but he’s stopped talking about it for now. Franklin said Merriweather is focusing on his final year of college football instead of thinking about the future.

NFL scouts haven’t reached an early-season consensus on Merriweather’s draft prospects. Reports from 247 Sportsand Pro Football Network peg the senior as a late-round draft pick.

Besides the NFL, the sport and recreation management major still wants to stay near the sports he grew up playing in the future.

“I want to potentially work my way up to being a GM for a professional football team,” Merriweather said. “I think that’s something that, you know, I can see myself doing. I think I have a pretty decent eye for talent.”

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