IOWA CITY, Ia. — There is one person in the Hawkeyes’ defense who is charismatic, a natural leader, badass and has the biggest smile on the team.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knew from the moment he recruited the former three-star contender that there was something different about Kaevon Merriweather. Ferentz was quick to notice the bond Merriweather had with his mother, LaTanya, and how they were both on the same page.

What struck Ferentz was the fact that Merriweather was a two-sport athlete who also excelled at basketball. And with that kind of versatility, a low center of gravity, nice vertical, and securing an individual one-on-one, Merriweather was a perfect safety partner for the Iowa defense.

However, the Michigan native’s leadership skills really impressed Ferentz. Finally, Merriweather has an aura about him that is contagious to his teammates.

When he comes into the dressing room and speaks, everyone listens. When the defense needs a boost of motivation to make a big play, Merriweather is the focus of the group and is a vocal leader. He always sets the tone in secondary and Iowa’s defense feeds off his energy, which impresses Ferentz.

“The credit goes to him (Meriwether) just like all the other guys we’re talking about here,” Ferentz said. “It goes back to that work, he’s done that, he’s also made it his mission to be a leader and I always appreciate that.”

Merriweather is enjoying his best season as Hawkeye in 2022, putting together an All-Big Ten caliber campaign. His 45 tackles, three interceptions and one defensive touchdown this fall are all career highs.

The 6-foot-1, 212-pounder had six tackles, including five one-on-ones against Michigan, both of which were season bests. Merriweather made a pass in back-to-back wins over Northwestern and Purdue. Not to mention catching an interception and returning a fumble for a score in the road win at Rutgers.

There’s no denying that Merriweather has great instincts because he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. In Ferentz’ eyes he fulfills everything a coach expects from a safety. He’s physical, fast, has great cover skills and is always on the ball when the pigskin’s in the air.

The Hawkeyes have a stallion at every level of their defense in edge rusher John Waggoner, linebacker Jack Campbell and cornerback Riley Moss. However, Merriweather is fundamentally the cornerstone of unity’s intensity, and that sets him apart from the rest versus Ferentz. The guy is a natural at pass coverage and stopping the run.

“You’re talking about Jack Campbell, Kaevon, I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re so good on defense,” said the 67-year-old coach. “We have guys in every position, not that they’re all the same, Kaevon is definitely a veteran, he and Riley are the two veterans in this group.”

Ferentz recognizes that everyone plays with confidence and the numbers show it. Iowa is currently third in the Big Ten and sixth in the FBS in overall defense. During the Hawkeyes’ four-game winning streak, their defense dominated, conceding just nine points per game. And that doesn’t surprise Ferentz, because there are leaders like Merriweather on this side of the ball.

“They have that kind of leadership in each group, they impact that space individually, but they impact that space when they’re all together, the whole team,” he said.

Proud of Merriweather’s amazing journey as Hawkeye, Ferentz expects to play his final game at Kinnick Stadium against Nebraska on Friday afternoon. Senior Day will be an emotional farewell day for several defenders, but it will also be the most important game of the season.

If the Hawkeyes beat the Huskers, they will secure a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game for a second straight season. It helps that Iowa (7-4) hasn’t lost to Nebraska (3-8) since 2014. And that’s amazing for Ferentz’s team to be in that position going into Week 13, especially after starting 1-3 in Big Ten play.

The Hawkeyes responded to adversity by standing with their backs to the wall and coming out swinging. Ferentz believes this is due to experienced leaders like Merriweather who never let his teammates give up on the season and made sure everyone participated in the task at hand.

Because of that, Ferentz believes it all cements the value Merriweather brings to defense and peels another layer off his solid legacy as Hawkeye.

“That’s how you build a successful team, and it takes the right people to do it.”