Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles, a project that aims to give readers greater insight into the Class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse are traveling the country to meet the Iowa incoming freshman class. This week we feature 3-star defensive lineman Levi Duwa.
KALONA, Iowa — On a mid-May afternoon in rural Iowa, rain fell so hard on Levi Duwa’s drive home from Mid-Prairie High School that he nearly pulled over.
Duwa had just completed another track practice in preparation for the district meet the following day. The hulking 6-foot-3, 260-pound Iowa football recruit kept going until he reached his home about 10 miles away. Then it was off to do chores on his family’s 120-acre farm, just north of the unincorporated burg of Frytown, about 20 miles west of Iowa City.
The trip home through a storm and the work Duwa performed afterward serves as a metaphor for who he is and what he’s accomplished. Toughness. Persistence. Tenacity. Perseverance. All of these characteristics comprise the naturally strong farm boy who bales straw for fun and shows calves at the Johnson County Fair every summer.
It’s nothing for Duwa to work in the fields until well past midnight. Sometimes he’s up at dawn feeding the cattle or goats. He rides the combine during harvest on his grandfather’s farm a few miles down the road near Wellman.
Farming is in his blood, as much as anything he’s ever done or ever will do. That includes playing football for the Iowa Hawkeyes this fall.
“It’s not easy work, that’s for sure,” Duwa said. “There are some late nights out in the tractor, until 2 or 3 in the morning. It just kind of depends. But once the crops go into the ground, especially throughout the summer, we have a lot of stuff to do. Once the end of the summer comes, we bale straw and stuff; it’s always fun getting 1,000 bales of straw or more. That’s a good workout for me. We have different chores. The calves and stuff like that, that keeps us busy around here.”
The work ethic and responsibility Duwa acquired on the farm helped him flourish as an athlete. He’s country strong with massive biceps, wide shoulders and a large frame. Early in his high school career, Duwa became one of Mid-Prairie’s best all-around athletes and started on the varsity football squad as a sophomore. He finished eighth at the state wrestling tournament as a sophomore and second as a junior. Last year, he placed third in the shot put at the state track meet.
About a year ago, Duwa accepted a football scholarship offer to Iowa, which he called his dream school. Everything seemed great in his life — until it cracked apart one night in September.
Injury and road to recovery
Duwa was a dominant defensive end as a junior. He compiled 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks for the Golden Hawks, who advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Midway through his senior season, Duwa had 3 sacks and 9 tackles for loss.
“He’s got a high motor,” Mid-Prairie football coach Pete Cavanagh said. “He’s got power and speed as a D-lineman. He was pretty disruptive at the defensive end spot for us. He’s a good enough athlete for us to use him on offense. He’s explosive off the line of scrimmage. Just really difficult to block.”
Then on a random play against local power Williamsburg, Duwa felt immense pain in his left foot.
“I didn’t think much of it,” Duwa said. “It was probably the adrenaline of being out on the field and whatnot. On the sideline I told the trainer that my foot didn’t feel very good. But then we had to go back in, so I went in for offense. I went to go block somebody and I felt all the cracks going through my foot. I knew something had to be wrong after that. It sucked having to sit out the rest of that game.”
Duwa and his parents, Jared and Margo, went to the hospital emergency room that night. His foot wasn’t broken, but medical personnel still gave him crutches.
The next day, Duwa attended the Iowa football game against Northwestern. He spoke with Iowa football physician Dr. Brian Wolf, who encouraged him to see a doctor at the sports medicine center right away. Duwa had a torn ligament in his foot — a Lisfranc injury — that required surgery. His football season was over.
“It definitely hurt us from a team standpoint and also from team morale,” Cavanagh said. “He was our best player, obviously.”
As much as Duwa hated to lose his final football season to an injury, he also knew he’d play the sport again at Iowa. Wrestling was a different situation. As a two-time state qualifier, Duwa hoped he could recover from his foot injury by the season’s midpoint. At first, that seemed likely. His foot appeared stable following X-rays and MRIs.
“The doctor said I had a pretty good chance of being able to wrestle, so that got my hopes up pretty high,” Duwa said.
But his foot continued to bother him. It didn’t respond the way he wanted, and he was in plenty of pain.
“I think at that point, we knew something was wrong,” Jared Duwa said. “I was hoping that it was a broken bone more than what it was, as far as the healing process. That would have been way faster.”
Levi Duwa had broken bones playing football before. He broke his ankle and his heel during a middle school football game. It took a few days before he and his family went to the doctor and discovered the extent of that injury.
“I’m the one who had him walk for two days on a broken crushed heel,” Margo Duwa said. “I’m kind of a suck-it-up mom. I like to make him tough it out a little bit to see if something’s wrong.”
But this foot injury was different. After a CAT scan, the doctor recommended another surgery to insert a metal plate and screws into his foot. Any chance at wrestling again was over.
“It was something I had to swallow,” Duwa said. “It was pretty tough. That kind of shoved me down a little bit.
“There for a little while I just didn’t even want to be around the wrestling environment. It was kind of hard to be around my teammates and all that, not being able to be a part of it. After time went on, I got used to it.”
The injury and second surgery robbed Duwa of his wrestling season and took away from his ability to train. He couldn’t perform upper-body lifts for two months following surgery for fear he’d strain or re-injure his foot. Finally, in February, he was cleared to compete in track. He channeled everything lost in wrestling into a pair of field events.
Channeling injury frustration
Duwa qualified for the state track and field meet in the discus and shot put as a junior. He was eager to get back into any sport after his injury.
“It was a big relief, actually,” Duwa said. “We actually started throwing a couple of weeks after the runners, so I got a little bit more time there. As the season started, it was hard to get back into the swing of things. My body wasn’t used to moving so trying to gain all that back was tough, and I was going to physical therapy so that helped a lot, too.”
— Dain Jeppson (@JeppsonMPHawk) May 12, 2017
It takes time for most athletes to regain the form required of the shot and discus. It was doubly true of Duwa, who was reworking his muscles concurrent with honing a proper technique. But even with his conditioning down, he noticed he launched the shot farther than he did healthy early in the previous season.
Duwa wasn’t satisfied, but his father urged him to judge the progress, not the end result.
“I know that I made that comment to him, ‘You need to be thankful that you’re throwing the shot put where you are,’ ” Jared Duwa said. ” ‘You haven’t competed since September. Your lifting was taken away from you for pretty much quite a while. It’s tough when you aren’t competing for a fair amount of time to stay positive and stay on the right track. To come back, you can’t expect yourself to be at the top of your game. You’ve got to work at it.’
“I don’t know if time’s going to allow him to get where he wants to be, but you’ve got to do your best and see what happens.”
Still, Duwa continued to thrive. He qualified in the shot put for the Drake Relays, which is more difficult than earning a trip to the state meet. He finished seventh overall.
Then last week at a Class 2A district meet, Duwa set the school record with a discus toss of 167 feet, 1 inch. He followed with a 55-foot, 3/4-inch launch in the shot put. He won both events to qualify for the state meet this weekend.
Based partly on proximity, Duwa grew up a diehard Hawkeyes fan. The walls in his bedroom are even painted black and gold. His goal was to earn a scholarship to play football at Iowa, and that’s what he worked toward early in his high school career.
After his second-place finish at the 2016 wrestling tournament, the first scholarship offer came from Iowa’s oldest rival, Minnesota. It was an intriguing offer for Duwa, who said he plans to farm once his playing years conclude. Minnesota’s agricultural school ranks among the nation’s best.
Other schools started looking at Duwa as well. Then Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan invited him to attend the 2016 spring game, and Morgan asked Duwa to speak with coach Kirk Ferentz.
“[Morgan] said he wanted to have a meeting with me or whatever,” Duwa recalled. “I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I wanted them to tell me where I was at with them. So we went after the spring game, and [Ferentz] offered me and I was in shock. I had no clue it was coming. Obviously it was a pretty easy choice for me after I got the offer.”
Within 24 hours, Duwa accepted.
Enjoyed having coach Ferentz and coach Morgan stop by for a in home visit! pic.twitter.com/r81iS7uio4
— Levi Duwa (@LeviDuwa) January 17, 2017
On the school’s recruiting-day show, Morgan praised Duwa’s multi-sport background as well as his work ethic.
“A great football player,” Morgan said. “He knows the hard work, he lives out on a farm. Loves to hunt and fish and really a competitive young man.”
Even with the injury Duwa was voted first-team all-state as a senior by the Iowa Newspaper Association. He was on the second team as a junior.
Leaving the farm
Duwa is the second-oldest of Jared and Margo Duwa’s five children. The oldest, Lexi, is a 20-year-old nursing student at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids. Then there are sisters Olivia (14) and Lanee (10) followed by little brother Laken (4).
The whole family is involved in agriculture, from working in the fields to showing cattle or goats at the Johnson County Fair. Both sides of Duwa’s family also work in the farming business. Margo’s father, Bill Riggan, raised hogs before he passed away. Jared’s father, Steve Duwa, grows crops and livestock.
When Steve Duwa is off to Canada during the summer, Levi finishes his chores and then does the same at his grandfather’s farm. As much as he’s learned in sports, working on the family farm has taught him more.
“There’s always something to do,” Levi Duwa said. “It gives you responsibility as far as taking care of everything and all that.
“I think work ethic is the most important thing, to be honest. Just being out in the fields late nights and all that. Taking care of the animals has taught me a lot.”
This summer, Levi Duwa won’t spend as much time in the fields as in the past. He starts workouts at Iowa on June 12. It’s football first, something for which he’s prepared. But he knows he’ll miss walking the fields when the sun is beating down and the humidity lathers him up. The thought of missing the fall harvest is even more difficult.
“Somebody else is going to have to step up now,” Levi said. “In the summer, we bale straw and stuff like that. Not being around for that will be kind of weird, especially next fall. I’ve always been around it, so it’s something that I’ve always looked forward to, actually. I think it’s pretty fun. That’s going to be hard to not be around. Obviously after the four to five years, I’ll be right back into it.”
Over the years, Levi was so reliable that his father had few worries about chores. The son was both responsible and hard working.
“That’s probably what I’ll miss the most,” Jared Duwa said. “Not just that but knowing that if I’m gone, or if I’m out late, then you don’t have to worry. The chores will be done. You don’t have to call and say, ‘Hey, do this, do that.’ It’s pretty well going to be done. It will be an adjustment. But it’s part of it.
“He’s been around doing stuff with me for so long, it comes naturally. You know it needs done and you do it. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, I guess.”
Related: Tristan Wirfs embraced his size, then realized his potential.
The most trying winter of Coy Kirkpatrick’s career turned him into a leader.
Nate Wieland’s size and speed suggests he could develop into a special linebacker.
For the complete Iowa NextGen series, click this link.