IOWA CITY — Of all the guys who got to see playing time in a game last season for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Kaevon Merriweather may have been the most surprising.
That’s not trying to dog him. It’s just his background didn’t portend getting onto the field.
The sophomore from Belleville, Mich., was full-go basketball in high school at Romulus High School and then Belleville High School his senior year. He had scholarship offers from Western Michigan and Division II Ferris State.
But despite not even going out for Belleville’s powerhouse football team in 2017 until it was a couple of practices into its season, Merriweather’s play forced coaches to find a spot for him on their defense. Iowa defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Phil Parker got a tip from Belleville Coach Jermaine Crowell about Merriweather, followed through, and the Hawkeyes eventually recruited and signed this under-the-radar prospect.
On top of it all, he saw playing time in nine games last season, mostly on special teams. All things considered, that’s pretty incredible.
“Oh, definitely not,” Merriweather said, when asked if a year ago at this time he had any inkling he’d play as a true freshman. “I thought I was going to be a redshirt last year, everybody thought I was going to be a redshirt. I really just came here and tried to learn as much as I could about the defense. That was pretty much my biggest goal last year.”
Instead he got the bonus plan.
Merriweather had a strong spring, which catapulted him onto the depth chart as the No. 1 free safety for Iowa. He is trying to hold off a strong push from redshirt walk-on sophomore Jack Koerner for the starting job, replacing the graduated Jake Gervase.
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Geno Stone likely will be Iowa’s strong safety at the start of the season and D.J. Johnson its starter at the hybrid ‘Cash’ position.
“I think I do bring a lot of physicality to the position. I feel I bring some speed,” Merriweather said. “I don’t know as much as Jake did last year, so my teammates help me with that a lot. That’s what I’m going through camp with right now.
“I’m just trying to get to that point where Jake was at in his career, just knowledge wise and understanding offenses, down and distance and what they are trying to do. When I get to that point, I think I will really be successful at that position.”
For an example of his athleticism, just check YouTube for video of the 6-foot-2 Merriweather dunking in high school basketball games. But the free safety position isn’t about just speed and athleticism.
Parker said at Iowa’s recent media day that he’d like to see Merriweather take a proverbial deep breath, so to speak.
“He’s still learning. He’s really young,” Parker said. “He went to a point where I thought he was moving really fast, really picking things up. But I think right now he needs to take kind of a step back and look at the big picture a little bit more. Sometimes I think he’s too aggressive. Make sure you are going through your progressions and reads. Understand that you have to be a communicator back there who needs to take control, along with Geno Stone, and run the defense.”
“I think I’m pretty capable of doing everything right now,” Merriweather said. “There are still a lot of football IQ things that I need to get down before the season starts. I think these next couple weeks of camp will really help me with that and get me ready for that first game.”
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Iowa seems set at the other defensive back positions. There is good depth at the corners, and Stone played well as a starter the final five games last season.
Johnson replacing Amani Hooker at cash seems a certainty. Now who will be the free safety?
Either way, it’s a good story: a walk-on or a basketball-turned-football player.
“You need these guys to be out there, the free and the strong, they’ve got to coaches,” Parker said. “They’ve really got to be into understanding the whole package. Making sure they get everybody else lined up.”
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