At the University of Iowa, Kaevon Merriweather has honed his skills on the gridiron, found a major that resonates with his career ambitions, and developed a project celebrating Black history.
Sara Epstein Moninger
Justin Torner

As a veteran defensive player on the University of Iowa football team, Kaevon Merriweather has learned how to make an impact—both on and off the field.

In addition to logging 42 tackles and an interception during the 2021 season, the fifth-year senior from Belleville, Michigan, who plays safety for the Hawkeyes, earned Iowa’s Coaches Appreciation Award as well as the inaugural Duke Slater Golden Gavel Award, an honor bestowed by local media upon the Iowa football player who not only is most cooperative with media but also exhibits professional integrity.

Also last season, Merriweather, a sport and recreation management major, pursued an idea he had to promote Black History Month: a video series highlighting the work of little-known Black inventors.

“Black History Month is more than learning about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali,” Merriweather says. “We use things every single day that a Black person invented. I thought these videos would present an opportunity to educate people throughout the month of February about Black people who nobody really knows about but are very influential—and to learn something myself.”

One video, for example, features Lewis Howard Latimer, who improved upon the light bulb by creating a longer-lasting filament. Another highlights the work of Garrett Morgan, who invented a three-position traffic signal, a safety hood device (an early gas mask), and improvements to the sewing machine. To produce the series, Merriweather enlisted help from UI athletics department video staff and convinced several teammates to participate. The finished installments were pushed out through social media throughout February 2022.

The feedback he received was positive and empowering, Merriweather says, and he plans to expand on the series in 2023.

“Doing the videos gave me confidence to do more things like that,” says Merriweather, who credits the video staff for bringing his vision to reality. “I got messages like: ‘I learned so much from your videos’ and ‘Thank you for spreading knowledge on some of these people.’ I even had a couple of teachers tell me that they showed the videos in their classrooms—one sent me a picture of their class watching the videos and then discussing what they learned. That was a pretty cool moment.”

“As a student-athlete here, I have the best of both worlds in the athletic program and in my education. You just can’t pass that up—and it was something that my mom was really excited about.”

Kaevon Merriweather
fifth-year senior on the Iowa football team
Kaevon Merriweather in his own words

On what he loves best about being a Hawkeye:

“The opportunity to play inside Kinnick Stadium. I think our fans are definitely the best fans in America. The energy they bring from the start of the game to the very end is completely unmatched. When we turn that corner from the tunnel and run onto the field, we hear every single person in the stadium—all 70,000 fans decked out in black and gold. It is definitely surreal. I appreciate every single opportunity to play on that field.”

On the challenge of playing for Iowa:

“You have to pay attention to details and work hard every single day. In high school, you might have been regarded as one of the best athletes in your school without working too hard. But once you get to college—especially in this program, where there are walk-ons who could have taken offers to other Division I schools but wanted to play for Iowa—you have other athletes who were just as good as you in high school and you have to compete with and outwork those guys. Everybody wants to get on the field, but there are only 22 starters.”

On what surprised him about Iowa:

“How much I like the slower pace of things in Iowa. I can drive to Detroit and have so many things going on around me. Being here allows me to keep distractions at bay. Even though there are a lot of things to do here, there’s not so much that it completely distracts you. That allows you to lock in and focus on what needs to get done.”

Merriweather says he enjoys being in a position of influence and that his leadership skills have grown at Iowa. When he first visited campus as a relatively unknown football recruit—basketball had been his primary sport in high school—he marveled at the many images of Hawkeyes who had become NFL players featured on the office wall of UI defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

“Being able to take those diamond-in-the-rough men and turn them into future draft picks was something that really attracted me, and it wasn’t just football that got my attention: I quickly learned that Iowa offers a world-class education,” Merriweather says. “As a student-athlete here, I have the best of both worlds in the athletic program and in my education. You just can’t pass that up—and it was something that my mom was really excited about.”

Though he started out studying business, Merriweather says he dreamed of having a career that involved sports. A discussion with his academic advisor convinced him to switch his major to sport and recreation management.

“She thought it would offer a little bit more of what I was looking for in a degree, and I think it was the best decision,” he says. “I’ve learned so much about all areas of sport management—from managing the tech team and running a facility, to being an entrepreneur and starting your own program, to sports agency and coaching. There are so many different avenues that I could take. My major has given me a sprinkle of everything and helped me figure out what I want to do in sports.”

The curriculum includes two field experiences, where students learn by doing while also earning academic credit. For the first one, Merriweather spent a summer working with young kids at a local football academy run by former Hawkeye Tyler Blum.

“Even if I only helped three or four kids the way that players helped me when I was younger, it was worth it,” Merriweather says. “I found that teaching is something that I truly love and enjoy.”

Merriweather followed that experience with a stint at nearby Tipton High School, where he worked alongside the school’s principal and athletic director to learn the ins and outs of running a high school sports program.

Kaevon Merriweather shoots photos at Big Ten Media Day.
Kaevon Merriweather has fun behind the camera as he represents the Iowa Hawkeyes in July for Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis. The Iowa safety was honored by local media in December 2021 with the inaugural Duke Slater Golden Gavel Award, which is given to the UI football player who exhibits professional integrity in all interactions. Photo by Matt Weitzel.

Liz Tovar, executive officer and associate vice president for the UI Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, met Merriweather on his first visit to campus and says she has witnessed in him tremendous personal growth, including participation in a July trip to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, as part of the Big Ten Conference’s Equality Coalition.

Did you know?

If you’re interested in a career in professional sports front offices, college athletics departments, sports marketing agencies, campus recreation, or municipal recreation, the University of Iowa offers a BS in sport and recreation management. It prepares its leaders to meet the challenges in the global sports arena and offers a strong foundation for pursuing advanced degrees.

“Over the past two years, in particular, Kaevon’s leadership ability has grown at an exponential clip, whether it be in football, academics, or life,” says Tovar, who also serves as senior associate athletics director for student-athlete academic services. “Last year, he came to my office and we talked about Iowa’s Journey to Unity video series, which encourages embracing diversity of thought and experiences. I saw his excitement and pride about continuing to build a great culture on our campus. His experience in Selma, his leadership, and vision for his team embody what we as an institution are trying to accomplish through unity and creating a culture where people from all backgrounds are accepted and welcomed.”

When the current season ends, Merriweather hopes to play in the NFL and eventually work his way into team management. Until then, he is content to be a leader on the Hawkeye squad and pass on what he has learned.

“My mom did an incredible job raising me, and something she always said that stuck with me is that every generation should do better than the last,” he says. “Whatever my end goal is, wherever my path may lead, I want to set an example for my kids and have them be an example to their kids—and just build upon each and every step, so that generations after me are in a position of being even more successful than I am now.”