Iowa Football

Iowa's Daviyon Nixon honored as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

Chauncey Golston also gets first-team defensive honors

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) celebrates with fans in the stands at the end of an NCAA college football game
Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54) celebrates with fans in the stands at the end of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 28-7. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Back in October, before this whole thing started, Iowa’s football assistant coaches were afforded the opportunity to speak in person with the media.

One of the questions for defensive line coach Kelvin Bell centered around Daviyon Nixon. What did Bell want to see from the defensive tackle this season, as he stepped into an important role?

“Be a good teammate. Period. Be a good teammate,” Bell immediately answered. “When I talk about being a good teammate, that is setting an example, and it’s holding others accountable to that example. If he can do those two things, the sky’s the limit. The leadership role, that is above being a good teammate. I want him to be a good teammate.”

Nixon was told of Bell’s comment and asked what he thought his coach meant.

“You can’t do everything on your own,” Nixon said. “As much as I want to go out there and try to make every play on the field, I can’t. I’ve got to be able to do my assignment to let other people make plays as well. You’ve got to share the wealth and share the love.”

The Big Ten Conference shared its love Wednesday, naming the junior from Kenosha, Wis., winner of both the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year.

He is the first Iowa player ever to grab both awards in the same season. Linebacker Josey Jewell was Iowa’s last Defensive Player of the Year winner (2017), Mitch King its last Defensive Lineman of the Year winner (2008).

League coaches and media honored Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston as a first-team all-conference member with Nixon. End Zach VanValkenburg and safety Jack Koerner received second-team honors from the media, with VanValkenburg a second-teamer, Koerner and linebacker Nick Niemann third-teamers in the coaches vote.

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“Just want to congratulate all of our guys who have received recognition,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The offensive and defensive teams have been released now. Special salute to Daviyon Nixon to be the defensive player in the conference and also the defensive lineman in the conference. That is a tremendous accomplishment and speaks to his improvement over 12 months time. Just really worked hard and has played at an extremely high level. Happy for each and every guy that has been recognized. That’s really a special thing.”

Nixon was a special thing all regular season. He led the Big Ten in tackles for loss (13.5) and tied with Golston for most sacks (5.5). His interception and return for touchdown against Penn State probably will never be forgotten by Hawkeyes fans.

Nor should the fortitude he showed to get to this point. Nixon overcame a learning disability diagnosed in high school, one year in junior college and a full 2018 season off to concentrate on his academics.

He entered the NCAA transfer portal at one point but stayed at Iowa. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder was a part-time player last season but has emerged as one of the nation’s best in this truncated 2020 season, a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year according to the Football Writers Association of America) and a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy (best offensive/defensive lineman) and Bednarik Award (best defensive player according to the Maxwell Football Club).

“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.”

One of Iowa’s supposed question areas going into this season was the defensive line, yet having three-fourths of it named either first- or second-team All-Big Ten proved any and all questions were answered successfully. Golston also emerged as a prime-time player in his senior season, as did VanValkenburg, a senior who transferred to Iowa from Division II Hillsdale.

Niemann leads Iowa in tackles, as it goes into an unexpected bye week following the cancellation of Saturday night’s home game against Michigan. Koerner overcame a serious jet ski accident over the summer that forced a friend to have to have part of a leg amputated.

Iowa also had honorable mention defensive picks in linebacker Seth Benson and defensive backs Dane Belton, Matt Hankins and Riley Moss, The Big Ten announced Northwestern’s Paddy Fisher as its Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year, Ohio State’s Shaun Wade as its Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year and Northwestern’s Brandon Joseph as its Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year.

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

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