Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse are visiting the Iowa incoming freshman class to show you more than 40-yard dash times and recruiting rankings. Each week, Land of 10 will introduce the Iowa fan base to one of the new Hawkeyes. Up this week is 3-star DT Daviyon Nixon.
KENOSHA, Wis. — The messages seemed urgent. A prominent Big Ten football program wanted to get in touch with Daviyon Nixon and his family.
It appeared to be a good sign. Coaches tend to hound players they want. Nixon couldn’t call the staff back fast enough.
It didn’t take long for the excitement to vanish from his face once the coach started speaking. His school wouldn’t consider someone with Nixon’s academic performance, regardless of talent level. His grades underwhelmed. That was that.
“It was a big slap in the face,” Nixon said as he mentally relived the phone call.
Earning a Big Ten scholarship offer became an uphill battle for the Indian Trail High School 3-star defensive tackle. He never forgot the phone call, the perceived disrespect, the way programs discarded him during the recruiting process, and those memories helped him raise his GPA so he could sign with Iowa in February.
Now that he knows his destination, though, his climb is just beginning.
• • •
Rodney Nixon would see his son crying on the football field. He knew what would come next.
Since he started playing football at age 4, Daviyon Nixon would morph into a child version of the Incredible Hulk when he became upset. His play would change. He’d take over a game. Rodney saw it happen so often it became predictable.
“He is somebody that you don’t want to piss off,” he said.
Daviyon admits he was always angry as a kid. He’s not really sure why. Rodney believes he is part of the reason for the anger. He was tough on all of his children. Rodney and Daviyon’s stepmom, Danielle, have a combined 13 kids. Daviyon’s brother, Eddie, was 3 years older, successful in sports and showed a strong work ethic. Daviyon wanted to do everything Eddie did. So Rodney pushed Daviyon to do the same.
Because Eddie liked football, Daviyon found an effective way to release his rage.
“I would have built-up anger,” Daviyon said. “When something happened to me I would push it back. Football was my way of letting everything out at one time.”
Those close to him call him kind and big-hearted. He’s gentle, but they don’t refer to him as a gentle giant. Daviyon doesn’t like failure and the gentle disappears when he feels disrespected.
“If you tell him he can’t he does it just to prove you wrong,” Rodney said.
The trait served him well when he needed to dig himself out of an academic hole in high school. The only reason he was there, though, is because of a lack of effort and energy. Daviyon knows as much now.
He walked into Indian Trail High School acting like a big shot. People knew his name because of Eddie. He thought of himself as a star of the freshman team. He was a class clown. There was no time for schoolwork, not with sports, girlfriends and hanging out with friends occupying his day.
“I felt like a big jock in ‘High School Musical,’ where everything falls into place for athletes,” Daviyon said. “I never really focused on my grades.”
He did enough to advance each year, but it wasn’t enough if he wanted to play Big Ten football. No one thought about big-time Division I sports then. Really, there was no reason to.
He wasn’t the 6-foot-4, 284-pound mountain of a man he is today. He didn’t stand out. Daviyon was the walking definition of an average football player, not special on the field and checking in at 6-1, 200 pounds as a sophomore.
No one would have guessed that the damage he did to his GPA while trying to look the part of the jock would hurt him when he truly became one. That he essentially would need straight A’s in his final semester to meet the academic requirements to head to Iowa.
None of it became an issue until after his growth spurt.
• • •
Mike McKay takes the measurements of every football player in his Indian Trail program to start the season.
Daviyon checked in at 6-3, 265 pounds. The head coach did a double take. It was a 2-inch and 60-pound increase. It led him to make a prediction to athletic director Eric Corbett.
“If he gets his head screwed on straight he is going to be an FBS recruit with that body,” McKay said.
People told Daviyon he grew. He didn’t believe it. He didn’t feel taller. Eventually, he couldn’t argue with the evidence.
“I started to realize it when I couldn’t fit into my bed,” Daviyon said.
Rodney calls his son the outcast. None of his siblings are built like him. The height comes from Rodney’s cousins. One is a 7-footer. Being 6-9 isn’t uncommon in that part of the family.
“I am so happy he got those genes,” Rodney said.
Daviyon always wanted to hear his named called out as a starter before a game started. As a sophomore, he played special teams, using his speed on kickoffs to try to beat his older teammates downfield to make a tackle.
With the growth spurt everything changed.
Daviyon did more than hear his name called before the game started. The announcer kept saying it. Daviyon dominated, using his size and athleticism to make play after play in his junior season opener. After the game, the Arrowhead High School head coach pulled him aside and said he would tell Northern Illinois coaches about him.
Daviyon was thrilled. Rodney was dubious because he missed the game, away on a trip. He didn’t believe it until a parent mentioned how well his son played. Rodney found the Hudl film. His jaw dropped.
“I immediately got excited,” Rodney said. “I was thinking this is huge.”
It’s not just that Daviyon is bigger than everyone else on the field or has a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He’s also the most athletic player in most games. He carries his weight well and moves likes a linebacker, and he can throw down vicious dunks during basketball season.
His combination of measurables and athleticism is like hitting a genetic lottery. McKay, who left Indian Trail to teach at Lake Forest Academy (Ill.) in January, still shakes his head over the plays Daviyon made. McKay never before coached a defensive tackle capable of chasing down jet sweeps from behind.
“That is something most offenses aren’t even accounting for,” McKay said.
These types of plays are why Rodney affectionately calls his son a freak and says Daviyon reminds him of Jevon Kearse, a three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher.
Daviyon realizes he does things others can’t. He just doesn’t know it in the moment.
“I get chills watching my film a lot,” Daviyon said. “It dawns on me watching film that it’s crazy what I can do when I set my mind to doing something.”
Colleges noticed, too. Teams from across the Midwest descended upon Indian Trail to see Daviyon up close.
Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda told McKay that Daviyon looked like a Michigan State defensive lineman. He meant it as a compliment because of the program’s ability to develop long-limbed prospects into stars.
Not everyone was as positive with Daviyon. The Spartans told McKay his grades would be an issue. Academics became a big enough red flag for several programs to stop recruiting him. Daviyon committed to Northern Illinois in July 2016. He truly believed he would suit up for the Huskies, but his anger started coming back over how teams treated him.
“I felt like I had to find a way to get everyone to notice me,” Nixon said.
• • •
McKay sat Daviyon down for one of their most important chats. McKay asked one question.
Do you want to play college football?
Daviyon enthusiastically replied yes.
Saying it and doing it were two different things. McKay asked him how many times a team would need to tell him academics would be an issue before he addressed it. Daviyon swore to do whatever it took to change his grades in his final three high school semesters.
“It sunk in and he buckled down,” McKay said.
McKay could always connect with Daviyon. During football season he showed Daviyon game film in which he never extended his arms or used his arms to his full potential. The results were good, and Daviyon would go on to earn first-team all-conference honors, but Daviyon could be better.
So McKay said if he were a college recruiter he wouldn’t offer Daviyon a scholarship because his technique was poor.
The news drove Daviyon back in a way a defender never did this past season.
After that, the way Daviyon got to the quarterback stood out. He fully extended his arms. The offensive lineman could barely touch his face mask, let alone stop him from getting into the backfield.
“It’s scary,” Daviyon said of his play when he combines technique with his athleticism.
Happy to say I truly am going to Iowa to further my career as a football player ????? pic.twitter.com/gqM7FP3pBo
— DaviyonNixon (@DaviyonNixon) February 1, 2017
McKay could get the best from Daviyon, regardless of the environment. He worked with Daviyon to get him caught up on past school assignments while also keeping up with his current course load.
McKay’s wife, Heather, a speech therapist, became a de facto tutor. She worked with Daviyon on his math homework and ACT prep.
“She stayed on him and those two kind of became little buddies,” McKay said.
The early results were encouraging. Then the phone call came: The Big Ten coach told Daviyon he would never be admitted to his university.
“It struck a nerve,” Rodney said. “It set him back like two weeks.”
This time Rodney sat his son down. He was tired of seeing Daviyon walk around depressed. He told him not to let others define who he can and can’t be. If he wanted to be a Division I football player he could do it, but doing so meant focusing on academics.
The conversation helped snap him out of his spell. He returned to meeting with teachers before and after practice. Some days, he showed up late on the football field because his academics were the priority.
McKay oversaw it all. He was as integral in the classroom as he was on the field. He would meet every day with Daviyon to go over his assignments.
“If it wasn’t for coach McKay walking with him side by side and telling him he can achieve it I honestly don’t think he would have made it,” Rodney said.
His football improvement is tied to his academic progress. Both started during Daviyon’s junior year.
The fact it happened after his growth spurt isn’t a coincidence. He never liked being told what to do. It’s why he wasn’t thrilled with homework or the weight room. It’s why he didn’t like going through his dad’s 6 a.m. workouts when he returned from living for a year in Georgia with his mother, Chwanda Frierson-Nixon, overweight and wanting to play eighth-grade football.
But when Division I football became an option, and he realized coaches were betting against him, school and his future mattered. The kid absent from weight sessions started showing up early and doing extra assignments to help raise his grades.
Gone were reports with nothing better than a C. Ones with A’s and B’s took their place.
“It just kind of became a habit for me to knuckle down and try to strive to be a great player,” Daviyon said.
Iowa started recruiting Daviyon as a junior. It was primarily letters, nothing too personal with the communication. Linebackers coach Seth Wallace started reaching out more during Daviyon’s senior season. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan and Wallace attended one of his December basketball games.
“We talk honestly to the prospects,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We really do. We try to let them know what we’re thinking all along and what our process will be and they make the choice to stay with us or get off the train, that type of deal.”
The Hawkeyes couldn’t offer until his first semester grades came in. The A’s or B’s piled up for the second straight semester. Because he was on track to potentially qualify, Ferentz offered a scholarship during a January visit to Indian Trail.
Daviyon didn’t celebrate. He retreated into his mind. Iowa and Purdue offered late in the process. Would he attend either or stay with Northern Illinois?
He did a lot of thinking. Both Iowa and Northern Illinois seemed like family environments, which was a major factor. He could major in criminal justice at Iowa. The other schools didn’t offer it as a major. He always dreamed of being a police officer and it influenced his decision. He would go to Iowa, announcing on National Signing Day. The choice was easy. Telling the Huskies wasn’t.
“When I finally did it it was painful,” Daviyon said, “but it was a blessing.”
• • •
Rodney can’t help but smile. He’s a proud pop who watched his son grow up the last two years. Academics became important. Daviyon met a challenge head on while continuing to excel under the Friday night lights. His potential is seemingly limitless. He may not be done growing and the Iowa staff will pack good weight onto him and help him refine his technique. The NFL could be in his future.
Yes, his son has come a long way.
Daviyon shifts in his chair uncomfortably as his dad talks. He’s not letting himself look ahead, not yet. He needs to get all A’s in his final semester to qualify and enroll at Iowa. There are B’s on his report card he needs to improve.
He graduates in early June. Final transcripts will come out a week or so later. He believes he’ll qualify but he’s not celebrating until it’s official.
“I am basically riding this roller coaster until it gets all the way to the last stop,” Daviyon said. “I am just trying to make sure that I am done by then. I am just praying and forcing myself to keep up on my grades so that I know when it comes to it I have made it.”
When the journey ends, and Daviyon reaches the apex of his climb, then Rodney won’t be the only one smiling.
For the complete Iowa NextGen series, click this link.