Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories as Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse travel the country to meet the incoming class of freshmen. Here is a look at 3-star outside linebacker Dillon Doyle.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When football practice ends, Dillon Doyle’s training just begins.
He curls in a corner of a couch, at the kitchen table or in bed with his latest book in his hands.
Weight sessions, film study and scrimmages are vital for his growth as an athlete. So is his mental workout.
The 3-star linebacker from Iowa City West High School is an early enrollee and is out to maximize his abilities in all aspects of his life. Doing so requires plenty of reading.
Especially when it comes to football.
“I am a little bit of a perfectionist,” Doyle said. “I am not necessarily putting pressure on myself, but I would like to reach as close to my potential as I can.”
Read to succeed
His mom, Tia Doyle, teaches developmental mathematics at Kirkwood Community College, helping teenagers obtain their associate’s degree.
His dad, Chris Doyle, is the Iowa football strength coach, tasked with polishing 2- and 3-star diamond-in-the-rough recruits into Big Ten stars.
Both parents value education and reading. Dillon, the youngest of three children, didn’t need much of a nudge.
Tia remembers him wearing out the pages of a Curious George book when he was about 4 years old.
“They always appreciated or understood that [education] was part of what they needed to do to be successful,” Tia said.
By the time he reached high school, Dillon showed an interest in the brain and what motivates people.
“[The brain is] just a hunk of fat that controls our body, and we have taken over the world with them,” Dillon said. “That’s cool to me.”
His interests led him to psychology, philosophy and neuroscience, his college major. Many college students avoid classes about some books Dillon reads for fun.
He gravitates toward Stoic philosophers Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. Their teachings of virtue being based in knowledge go hand-in-hand with self-improvement readings.
Chris, who declined an interview, hands out books such as Legacy, about why the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team is so successful, to his team each year.
The readings intrigued Dillon, as did his father’s quest for personal development.
“He definitely has a growth mindset if I’ve ever seen one,” Dillon said.
So does Dillon. It led him to pick up a copy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 1990 bestseller Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
The book is a scientific exploration of increasing the quality of life. It details why most people are at their happiest when engaging in a goal and trying to expand their horizons.
It was a revelation. Csikszentmihalyi connected ideas scattered in Dillon’s brain and confirmed things he felt but couldn’t know for sure. The book helped lead him to neuroscience and reiterated his belief in trying to maximize his potential.
“A lot of what I read in it were thoughts I had before, and I’ve never put them to paper or even thought about them,” Dillon said. “It’s basically organizing what I felt before and adding studies a lot of concrete evidence to it.”
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 20, 2017
Applying the lessons
Iowa City football coach Garrett Hartwig is an English teacher and book nerd. He and Dillon are kindred spirits, swapping book suggestions and discussing their thoughts about the texts.
When Dillon recommended Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday last spring, Hartwig quickly picked up a copy. The book spoke to him in the way Csikszentmihalyi’s book did for Dillon.
The book explains why proper organization and suppressing your ego are critical to success.
“I will say it’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years,” Hartwig said.
He wasn’t the only one to learn a thing or two from it.
Every time a journalist complimented him, Dillon thanked them, said he appreciated the compliments and discussed what he must do to improve.
Every time Hartwig watched it happen, he thought the same thing.
“I can see lessons in that book play itself out in the way he carries himself,” Hartwig said.
That’s the thing. Dillon doesn’t just read books. He incorporates them into his life. It carries over into football.
Hartwig called Dillon the rare high school prospect with perspective, understanding how the tiniest detail helps him achieve goals.
“He thinks and deliberates on what he wants and things he can attain,” Hartwig said. “He sets his sights, and there is no holding him back.”
Dillon took to football at a young age, running around the practice field with Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery.
The Hawkeyes were more than players. They were like his older brothers. One of his earliest memories is The Catch, Warren Holloway’s Hail Mary grab to beat LSU in the 2005 Outback Bowl.
If he was going to give the sport a try, he was going to give it everything he had. He stopped eating fast food and swore off soda as a 7-year-old. He started running a local hill with his brothers in elementary school because of the training benefits.
Dillon tried becoming the best version of himself at a young age. He hasn’t stopped.
“The best line we have in this house is, ‘That’s just Dillon,’ ” Tia said. “That is who he was and he wasn’t trying to be someone else.”
‘Step through that door’
Late in a 2015 first-round playoff game, Hartwig frantically looked for the final member of the onside kick front line. Before Hartwig located the individual, Dillon, a sophomore called up for the postseason, jumped onto the field.
It was as if Cedar Rapids Prairie wanted to test the underclassman. The kick went right to Dillon. He recovered it and helped ensure the victory.
Hartwig swears he wasn’t worried. Instead, two words entered his mind.
“He seizes an opportunity,” Hartwig said. “People have them before them all the time. You can walk through that door, and he certainly did.”
When called upon, Dillon’s work paid off. Hartwig saw it happen again and again as Dillon became one of the top two-way players in the state, earning district player of the year honors as a senior.
He stood out at tight end, catching a combined 31 passes for 394 yards and 7 touchdowns as a junior and senior.
But he starred at linebacker, making 158 tackles and 17 tackles for loss and 3 sacks the last two seasons. Dillon was always one of the best athletes on the field, but he is the rare Division I player whose football IQ overshadowed his athleticism.
His combination of understanding the defense, where to line up and his ability to quickly diagnose a play gave him an edge.
“It’s pure intelligence and maturity,” Hartwig said. “I guess the best way to describe Dillon is he sees the big picture.”
South Dakota, Central Florida and Northern Illinois offered scholarships, but his recruiting came down to Harvard and Iowa.
Harvard offered the best education. Iowa offered the best football option. His education won’t necessarily end in five years. His college football career will.
So 15 days after Iowa offered, he committed in March 2017.
“The dream of Big Ten football ends here if I don’t take this option,” Dillon told Land of 10 when he initially pledged.
“The dream of a Harvard education doesn’t end here because I could get a graduate degree in 10 years from Harvard if I wanted. I think I am comfortable with choosing Big Ten football at this point.”
Dillon made the most of his high school career and plans to do the same at Iowa. It is why he enrolled early.
It is the best way for him to maximize his college potential, academically and athletically.
Hartwig isn’t sure how Dillon’s Iowa career will unfold, but he is certain of one thing. He won’t bet against the athlete who views reading and his mental growth as important to his development as his next squat.
“He can do some great things,” Hartwig said. “I know that’s going to happen because the kid won’t stop working. He is very humble and very focused and mature beyond his years. He knows the opportunity he has, and like everything he has before him, he’s going to step through that door and take his best shot at it.”