IOWA CITY, Ia. — There is one person in the defense of the Hawkeyes who is charismatic, a born leader, rock solid and has the biggest smile on the team.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz knew there was something different about Kaevon Merriweather from the moment he recruited the former three-star contender. Ferentz quickly noticed the connection Merriweather had with his mother LaTanya, and how they were both on the same wavelength.
What caught Ferentz’s attention was the fact that Merriweather was a dual-sport athlete, who also excelled at basketball. And having that kind of versatility, with a low center of gravity, a nice vertical and locking of an individual one-on-one, made Merriweather a perfect fit for safety for the Iowa defense.
The Michigan native’s leadership skills really impressed Ferentz. After all, Merriweather has a certain aura that is contagious to his teammates.
When he walks into the locker room and talks, everyone listens. When the defense needs a boost of motivation to make a big play, Merriweather is at the center of the pack as a vocal leader. He always sets the tone in secondary and Iowa’s defense feeds off his energy, impressing Ferentz.
“The credit goes to him, just like all the other guys we’re talking about,” Ferentz said. “It comes back to doing that job. He’s done that. He’s also embraced being a leader, and I always appreciate that.”
Merriweather will have his best season as a Hawkeye in 2022 and he’s mounting an All-Big Ten campaign. His 45 tackles, three interceptions and a defensive touchdown this fall are all career highlights.
The six-foot, 212-pounder accounted for six tackles, including five solo against Michigan, both of which were season highs. Merriweather grabbed a pass in back-to-back wins over Northwestern and Purdue. Not to mention he hauled in an interception and returned a fumble for a score in the win over Rutgers.
There’s no denying that Merriweather has great instincts as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. In Ferentz’s eyes, he does everything a coach expects of safety. He’s physical, fast, has great covering skills and is always around the ball when the pigskin is in the air.
The Hawkeyes have a stud at every level of their defense in edge rusher John Waggoner, linebacker Jack Campbell and cornerback Riley Moss. However, Merriweather is basically the cornerstone of the unit’s intensity, which is what separates him from the rest of Ferentz.
“You talk about Jack Campbell, Kaevon, I think that’s one of the reasons why we defend so well,” said the 67-year-old coach. “We’ve got guys in every position, not that they’re all the same. Kaevon is definitely a veteran, he and Riley are the two veterans in that group.”
Ferentz recognizes that everyone plays with confidence and the numbers back this up. Iowa is currently third in the Big Ten and sixth in the FBS in total defense. During the Hawkeyes’ four-game winning streak, their defense dominated, allowing only nine points per game. And that doesn’t surprise Ferentz when there are leaders on that side of the ball like Merriweather.
“You have that kind of leadership in every group. They influence that room individually, but they influence that room when they’re all together, the whole team,” he said.
Ferentz is proud of Merriweather’s amazing journey as Hawkeye and expects to play his last game at Kinnick Stadium on Friday afternoon against Nebraska. Senior Day will be an emotional day for several defenders, but it will also be the most crucial game of the season.
If the Hawkeyes beat the Huskers, they will clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game for the second season in a row. It helps that Iowa (7-4) hasn’t lost to Nebraska (3-8) since 2014. And that’s mind-boggling for Ferentz’s team to be in this position in Week 13, especially after they started 1-3 in Big Ten. Play.
The Hawkeyes reacted to adversity as they had their backs against the wall and came out swinging. Ferentz believes it’s because of veteran leaders like Merriweather, who never let his teammates give up on the season and kept everyone abreast of the task at hand.
Therefore, Ferentz believes it all solidifies the value Merriweather adds to the defense, peeling another layer off his solid legacy as Hawkeye.
“That’s how you build a winning team, and then you have to have the right guys.”