Daviyon Nixon is an emerging Hawkeye star trying to get his teammates to follow his lead
IOWA CITY, Ia. — As if Daviyon Nixon hadn’t expended enough energy on the football field Saturday, there he was on the sideline trying to rev up his Iowa teammates for a crucial late drive.
Nixon is a 305-pound defensive tackle who has quickly become the star of this Hawkeye team, and maybe the best reason for fans to keep watching even after an 0-2 start to the season.
“Even on the sideline, we’ve got to stay together as a unit and stay together as a team and we’ve got to just finish,” Nixon said after he tried to will the Hawkeyes to a victory over Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium. “I need everybody participating. I need everybody hyped up. I need all the juice from the sidelines, the fans, everybody who’s out there.
“We came out here for a reason, and that’s just to get the job done. So if we’re out there, you’ve got to be out there in the moment and you’ve got to love it.”
Ultimately, Iowa did not get the job done in its home opener, falling to the Wildcats 21-20. This was no fault of Nixon’s. The junior who is playing nearly every snap came up with 11 tackles, three of them for a loss, and forced a second-half fumble that may have changed the outcome if the Hawkeyes could have gotten to the football first.
Afterward, Nixon said exactly what you want to hear the MVP of a losing team say.
“If we don’t get the win,” a weary Nixon declared, “I never feel like I did enough.”
Nixon has committed to the Hawkeyes on three separate occasions just to get to this point. He signed on out of high school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, only to have to go to Iowa Western Community College for a year to work on his academics. Alabama came after him then, but Nixon reaffirmed his intention to play at Iowa.
He sat out his first year here, again to focus on his coursework, and then put his name into the transfer portal before ever seeing the field. Nixon decided to stay and was a backup on a 10-3 Hawkeye team in 2019.
Throughout it all, there have been hints from Iowa coaches that they weren’t always enamored with Nixon, such as this preseason when defensive line coach Kelvin Bell was asked what the junior needed to do to excel and he replied: “Be a good teammate.”
Whatever was meant by that quote, Nixon appears to be taking it to heart. He has 18 tackles as the anchor of a thin defensive line. It’s impossible to imagine either of Iowa’s first two games being as competitive as they were without Nixon fighting through double teams and getting into the opponent’s backfield.
“It’s something I’m used to now,” Nixon said of having to contend with two blockers at a time. “Growing up, my stature, my size, I’m always getting double-teamed. I’ve had it in high school where teams will watch film and change entire game plans because of me.
“I’ve still got to be productive as much as possible.”
Again, this is what you want to hear from a star player: Bring on the challenge and it’s up to me to respond. No excuses.
Here’s just one example. On Northwestern’s first drive of the second half, with Iowa clinging for dear life to a 20-14 lead, Nixon made the Wildcats travel backward.
He bull-rushed through two would-be obstacles and dragged down quarterback Peyton Ramsey for an 11-yard loss, causing him to cough up in the football in the process. An Iowa recovery would have put its offense at the Northwestern 19-yard line, in range for a Keith Duncan field goal if nothing else. Instead, the Wildcats’ freshman offensive lineman Peter Skoronski fell on it.
Two plays later, Northwestern was trying to play things safe by handing the ball to Drake Anderson, who cut to his right and was immediately tripped by a diving Nixon, six yards into the backfield. The Wildcats headed to their sideline just happy for the opportunity to punt.
“He brings energy each and every day, every practice, every game,” Iowa linebacker Seth Benson said of Nixon. “He sparks fire in us. He keeps offensive linemen off of us. He allows us to make plays.”
Benson, in his first start at middle linebacker, made 13 tackles Saturday. He held up well against a Northwestern offense that ran the ball 60 times but averaged only 2.4 yards on those carries. Nixon certainly helped him.
It’s only two games, but Nixon sure looks like a generational talent for the Hawkeyes. He’ll have an NFL decision to make soon. The question is whether his team will follow his lead in the next six weeks or if the losses will mount.
Nixon was displeased with his defense on two long Northwestern scoring drives after Iowa had taken a 17-0 lead. He may have been in his teammates’ faces on the sideline in the waning minutes of the game, but he wasn’t ready to pat them on the back once it was over.
“If we shut them out in the second quarter like they did us in the fourth quarter,” Nixon pointed out, “we would win.”
Nixon is feasting on opposing linemen this season. He’s also fed up with losing.
Just as you’d expect from your star.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.