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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Kaevon Merriweather seems as humble as a football field is long, but he did compare his style of play to Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul Tuesday.
They, of course, are two of the best point guards the NBA has seen. Merriweather is a former hooper who is a safety on Iowa’s football team. Only, he says, because Western Michigan’s men’s basketball coaching staff didn’t immediately bite when Merriweather offered himself to their program.
“I actually tried to commit to Western Michigan after my last AAU game (prior to his senior season at Belleville (Mich.) High),” Merriweather said. “The coach actually told me to wait a little bit. If he would have given me the green light to commit, I probably wouldn’t be playing football right now.”
In fact, he didn’t play football from the end of eighth grade until his junior year of high school. He said the Michigan cold and the punishment football dishes out weren’t fun, and not helping him with basketball.
As he began his junior year of high school, he returned to football just for the experience of it, not to wow college coaches. Jermain Crowell, Belleville’s coach, touted Merriweather to Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, the Hawkeyes’ recruiting bird-dog in Michigan.
A few years before, Parker pulled lightly recruited defensive back Desmond King out of that state, then helped him become an All-American.
“Phil tends to have someone laying in the weeds a little bit,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
Ferentz and Parker were in New Jersey Saturday night, enjoying the fruits of Merriweather’s decision to be a college football player in Iowa’s 27-10 win over Rutgers.
How much so? On Monday Merriweather was named the Co-Defensive Player of the Week in the Big Ten for returning a fumble for a touchdown and intercepting a pass and returning it 33 yards.
He could have had a second pick late in the game when Rutgers threw a bomb on fourth down, but he knocked it down to give his team better field position back at the Iowa 42. Or so was the story he gave to reporters after the game.
Some teammates ribbed him about it on social media, saying it was a drop, not a heady play. Tuesday, Merriweather came clean.
“When I went to take off with it,” he said, “I forgot about the ball. I heard somebody say ‘Drop it!’ I think that kind of threw me off a little bit.”
As for the part about him being humble, it’s true. He said “I was so surprised” about his Big Ten honor.
“I didn’t really think I did anything crazy. I just kind of played off what the game was giving me.”
Merriweather’s scoop-and-score from 30 yards out came after Sebastian Castro drilled the ball loose from Rutgers receiver Joshua Youngblood.
“Castro made a huge play,” said Merriweather. “Without Castro, that fumble recovery wouldn’t have happened.
“That pick I had was really just sitting in the zone. It wasn’t really anything spectacular.”
Being in the right places at the right times, though, is what put the ball in Merriweather’s hands twice. It’s what got him into an end zone with the football for the first time in his career.
“It was so fun,” he said. “I never really thought that I would score a touchdown.
“I saw the ball and I’m just looking. I said ‘Oh, snap. That’s a fumble.’ I picked it up and started running and running.
“I was just like ‘No way. There has to be a flag or something’ in the back of my head. I’m like ‘This can’t be right.’ But I scored.”
He then did the Blade Dance, a staple of athletes from the Detroit area for almost two decades.
Speaking of Michigan, that’s the team Iowa plays Saturday. The team that routed the Hawkeyes 42-3 in last year’s Big Ten championship. The team Merriweather used to like, the team his uncle likes.
“It’s definitely giving me some juice,” Merriweather said. “I love playing my home-state school … getting the chance to play them and kind of upset some of my family members.”
But Michigan didn’t offer this local guy a scholarship.
“I was a zero-star recruit,” said Merriweather. “I was a basketball player. They weren’t going to look at me.”
They’ll see him Saturday.
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