Iowa Football

Daviyon Nixon works through learning disability, sticks with Iowa and emerges as an NFL prospect

D-lineman leads the Big Ten in sacks while producing quite a highlight reel

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) grabs Northwestern Wildcats running back Isaiah Bowser (25) in the fir
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) grabs Northwestern Wildcats running back Isaiah Bowser (25) in the first quarter of their football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Dummy. Stupid. Idiot. Sped Boy.

Kids can be cruel. Sometimes they have no filter, just let words fly that hurt someone.

Really hurt someone.

That’s what Daviyon Nixon feared when he was a junior in high school. The Iowa defensive tackle was diagnosed with a learning disability that was holding him back in the classroom and subsequently causing him to act up at times.

You care what your peers say and think about you, especially when you’re a teenager. He worried that he’d be an outcast, called things he wasn’t.

“When I first found out I had a learning disability, it kind of hurt,” Nixon said. “Basically I felt like I had a label on my back. I wasn’t the smart guy. I was stupid, I was dumb, things like that. My parents quickly made me realize that it’s not that I’m slow or dumb or anything like that. I just learn differently than other people. That opened my eyes.”

A breakout 2020 season

To watch Daviyon Nixon play football has been an absolute joy this season. He’s so quick, so athletic, so strong, so big at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds.

You’ll never forget that interception he made late in the Penn State game last month. He anticipated a pass in the flat, reached up and grabbed it, sprinted down field, high stepped and juked Penn State’s quarterback out of position for a possible tackle and strolled the rest of the way for a 71-yard touchdown.

This was a defensive tackle!

 

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“When I saw that interception, I was thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe he just did that,’” said Daviyon’s father, Rodney Nixon Sr. “Some of the tackles he’s made, tracking people down, it was like, wow, I never realized he was that fast. Then, too, some of the plays I will be like ‘Well, you could have done something different there.’ As a coach, you are always tweaking and always looking for a flaw. But I’m super impressed, I’m really, really happy for him. He has worked really, really hard.”

Certainly from a football standpoint. Nixon went from getting snaps here and there last season to a bona fide All-America candidate, a guy who leads the Big Ten Conference in tackles for loss and sacks.

He’s one of six finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for national defensive player of the year in college football according to the Football Writers Association of America. He’s a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year according to the Maxwell Club) and Outland Trophy (best lineman in college football).

“He’s just done a wonderful job,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think I mentioned last week, maybe I didn’t, after the (Illinois) game, I remember watching our game against Illinois a year ago, watching he and (defensive end) Zach VanValkenburg out there when the two were out there. Both of those guys looked fairly pedestrian. Neither of those guys are playing pedestrian right now. Daviyon is playing as well as anybody as an inside player for us, extremely disruptive. Just doing a really nice job, giving us a lot of life, energy, leadership out there on the field.”

“Honestly, the awards, they’re very special to me,” Nixon said. “I’m more than happy to be part of these awards, being a semifinalist and things like that. But, for me, personally, I just want to win. That’s my goal when I get here every day, every morning. When I get to this building, I want to go out with my team. The awards will come later.”

Daviyon Nixon’s road to Iowa

Now let’s circle back to the other hard work Nixon has put in to get to this point. He signed a letter of intent with Iowa in 2017, graduated from Indian Trail High School in Kenosha, Wis., but had to play for a year at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs because of academics.

 

Alabama recruited him after watching him play his season at Iowa Western, but Nixon stuck with Iowa, entering school in the winter of 2018. He briefly entered the NCAA transfer portal in the spring but again decided to stick with the Hawkeyes.

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“Really, really close,” Rodney Nixon Sr. said, when asked how close his son came to leaving Iowa. “If we could have gotten out of one situation, he wouldn’t have been at Iowa. There was one thing to my knowledge that kept him at Iowa.”

Nixon Sr., who is a coach and security guard at Indian Trail, wouldn’t divulge that one thing.

“I can tell you this much: Coach (Seth) Wallace, Coach Ferentz, Coach (Kelvin) Bell, Coach (Reese) Morgan when he was there, all those guys have been nothing but great for Daviyon, and they’ve all shown loyalty to him,” Nixon Sr. said. “That’s a big thing for Daviyon. He likes loyalty. Guys like Broderick Binns, too. That had a big part with him staying at Iowa.”

And excelling on the field and off it.

‘I don’t have to be down on myself’

An engaging young man who always seems to be smiling, Nixon received the 2019-20 African American Studies Cultural Appreciation Award for excellence in his classes.

That’s how far he has come academically.

 
 

“You’ve got to have people help you learn a certain way and then benefit from that,” Nixon said. “Luckily that’s what I was blessed with. I had teachers helping me learn in a different way. I played football, so if it was math, it’d be football calculations, things like that. That helped me learn the math easier. Or food, anything like that. I had to fight through all of that. It was more so the mindset that I don’t have to be down on myself, I don’t have to keep calling myself dumb or stupid or looking at myself being (different) because I walk into a different classroom and take tests. It’s all beneficial for me to get better. The sooner I realized that, the better I got.”

“At first, it was very difficult for him to understand. Very difficult,” Nixon Sr. said. “He did not want to be labeled as what he was being labeled. That was very hard for him. For a 15-, 16-year-old kid to be labeled with a disability, that’s very hard ... A lot of motivation from people who were in his corner, that were helping him ... It’s working out for the best. We’re all proud of him.”

Nixon brushed off a question about Saturday being his final home game at Kinnick Stadium. He’s a junior with one year left of eligibility, but the chance to be a high NFL draft pick might just be there.

You definitely can envision him playing and starting on Sundays for someone.

“Every guy has a story. Most of them involve some kind of adversity, hardship, whether it’s in their personal lives, families, might be academically, whatever. That’s kind of the nature of this thing,” Ferentz said. “Going to college is not easy for a lot of people. It wasn’t for me, I know that. Playing football, major college football, which I’d never experienced, that’s hard. I look at the work our guys do compared to when I was playing, that was 100 years ago, I get it. Both of them are full-time activities. Then you factor in other things that are real-life things.

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“It doesn’t always click for guys at the same time. That’s the interesting part. As long as they’re trying, as long as they’re giving the effort, making the effort, you stick with them because you just never know what’s going to unfold. It doesn’t always. But sometimes you have stories like this.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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