IOWA CITY, Iowa – While his classmates are roaming the halls of Iowa City West High and preparing for their senior prom, Dillon Doyle is attending the University of Iowa. He’s sitting in lecture halls and training for spring football.
He graduated from West in December and began college last month. He said goodbye to the people with whom he grew up, beginning a new adventure, chasing his dream.
There’s a small part of Doyle that will miss going to prom, spending a few more months with childhood friends and enjoying one last track season. He’s at peace with his decision, however.
Doyle is focusing on growth, physically and mentally. He can best do that at Iowa. It’s an extra semester of free college. That’s important when majoring in Neuroscience.
It’s an appropriate field of study for a young man fascinated with the brain. He reads philosophy books for fun, marrying those ideas with a strict regimen of diet and exercise.
While an unusual way of life for a teenager, it makes sense when you consider his upbringing. His father, Hawkeye strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, is among the top people in his field. His mother, Tia Doyle, teaches developmental mathematics at Kirkwood Community College.
On the surface, Dillon Doyle looks like a talented outside linebacker coming into a program replacing its three starters at the position. When you dig deeper, the picture looks more complex.
GROWING UP DOYLE
Chris Doyle came to Iowa with head coach Kirk Ferentz, the longest tenured person in his position nationally. Doyle coined the phrase “Break the Rock” as the Hawkeyes rebuilt from the one-win team in he and Ferentz’s first year (1999) to an unbeaten Big Ten champion in Year 4.
Doyle talked about chipping away at the figurative rock as a group working towards the same goal. He’s become known as a master motivator and developer of men. Several years ago, he began giving team members books like The Slight Edge and Legacy for bonding, knowledge and inspiration.
His near 30,000 Twitter followers receive words of wisdom on a regular basis. It’s much more personal when you’re his son.
There wasn’t a quote of the day on a dry erase board in the Doyle kitchen each morning. Dillon hasn’t made a habit of looking for inspiration on his father’s social media feed.
“He’s just tried to be the best parent possible,” Dillon said. “He’s encouraged us to do our own reading and see what motivates us. I know how many Twitter followers he has but I don’t ever look at his Twitter for motivation. I kind of find that by myself.”
Dillon stumbled across one of his father’s books sitting by his chair in the living room years ago. He began reading. It struck a cord with him.
He’s continued consuming literature on philosophy, discipline and self improvement. He’s strived to be the best person he can be every day.
“I think I’m in a special position because we’re not super religious. Actually, we’re not religious,” Dillon said. “My parents have always told me that I can form my own opinions on life. That’s really cool. They haven’t drilled me with their own stuff. They told me I can choose whatever I want to believe. I think I’ve found that in philosophy.”
Dillon, and his older brothers, Declan and Donovan, have gravitated towards Stoicism. They’ve studied the three most well known Stoic philosophers – Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. They taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine reason that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.
“Stoicism is really special because it teaches you to perceive things the way you want to perceive them so things don’t have to be perceived as positive or negative,” Dillon said. “That’s helped me in football because if you have a big turnover or mistake, that doesn’t have to be viewed negatively. It’s just another opportunity. You see the obstacles as opportunities rather than hoops to jump through.”
It reflects how his father teaches. That’s out there for everybody to see. It’s equally in line with his mother’s outlook.
A steadfast educator, Tia Doyle, pushed her children in academics. They all excelled there. Her role was at least equal to that of her husband. She stopped working outside the home until her boys were school age.
“She’s been everything. Her being around and making me a good kid, that’s everything. I owe a lot of it to her. Everybody talks about my dad and how he shaped me as a football player. My mom has given me character, not that my dad hasn’t. She’s just been around a lot and that’s been important in my upbringing,” Dillon said.
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REACHING THE GOAL
Dillon always tried to set short-term goals. He watched that work for his older brothers. Declan played baseball at Iowa Western Community College and now is a graduate assistant with the Hawkeye football program. Donovan went to Harvard as a wrestler.
While he grew up idolizing Hawkeye football players and wanting to be one, Dillon wasn’t obsessed with it. He concentrated on each step that would get him there.
He began his junior year as a relative unknown in recruiting circles. Scouts were lining up for senior receiver Oliver Martin, who ended up at Michigan.
Dillon received his first letter as a college prospect a few games into his 11th-grade campaign. He picked up his first scholarship offer from South Dakota during a visit after the season. Central Florida and Northern Illinois jumped in soon after that. Iowa followed.
Harvard talked with Dillon throughout the process. The Crimson impressed him so much that it was a finalist along with the Hawkeyes. He was intrigued by the idea of being around his big brother.
Donovan, like the rest of the family, gave Dillon space to make his own decision. He did point out that Big Ten football offered a higher level than in the Ivy League. Dillon could always attend Harvard for graduate school.
Dillon had a lifelong connection with the Hawkeyes. Being recruited by them proved to be a different dynamic, however.
“I just knew Kirk Ferentz as a family friend when I was a kid,” Dillon said. “It was a little weird. I’d gone in on my visit and those were like my friends walking in there. Then sitting down with Kirk and having a recruiting conversation was definitely different.”
It didn’t take long for everyone to become comfortable. Dillon felt pride in earning his way into that position. It wasn’t easy.
Dillon got serious about health at a young age. He stopped eating fast food back in 2010. Chris and Tia taught their kids the importance of a good diet. They ate square meals and packed healthy food whenever leaving the house.
“The biggest determinator in my diet is how I feel. If I eat bad and work out the way that I do, I feel it and I hate that feeling. The better I can feel when I work out the better I feel,” Dillon said.
He might start the day with four eggs, a few pieces of toast and a vegetable shake. Lunch could consist of a couple tuna packets, carrots, a protein bar and a protein shake. Dinner can include a meat, vegetable and a side, staying away from carbohydrates.
Dillon said he wasn’t eating a lot of fast food when he changed his ways. As a result, it wasn’t hard to quit it completely.
“I don’t think I was ever on a bad path. We’d get excited just like any other kid to eat bad food. There just comes a point where your future goals are more important than pleasure in the present. It has been like that in my house for a long time,” he said.
“It changed a lot when I realized I had to get bigger to play Big Ten football. That was probably two years ago. I started eating a bunch and I knew I couldn’t eat bad food because that would just put on bad weight.”
Dillon said he calculated calories following breakfast one day during the summer. He was at 2,500. He played his senior season at 6-3, 220, but hoped to be closer to 230 by fall camp.
Doyle is well aware of the openings at linebacker. Starters Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower exiting the program leaves open possibilities.
He’s not viewing it that way.
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“I want to focus on the present. I don’t want to get caught up in thinking I have to play. If I can’t start as a freshman, I don’t deserve to start as a freshman. I’m just looking forward to getting in there and working hard and maximizing my potential,” he said.
“The only way to accomplish goals is to take care of things in the present. I don’t control the depth chart. That’s out of my control.”
That’s how Doyle arrived at this point. It started when he watched games from the stands at Kinnick Stadium as a child.
“I wanted to be one of those guys down on the field. Before I understood the game, I looked up to them. Everybody is cheering for them. Everybody wants those guys to succeed. The dream started there,” he said.
He first believed it possible during his junior season.
“I zeroed in. I knew I could do this. Me and my dad had some conversations. He thought I could do it, too. We set a plan and we went about it and just focused on improving every day,” Dillon said.
Now in the program, Dillon will prepare like so many players before him under the watchful eyes of his father. It’s familiar even if different.
Dillon trained alongside former Hawkeyes in the NFL back in town to work with his dad during off-seasons when he was in high school. He watched the mutual respect between those guys and Chris.
“When Marshal Yanda comes back and talks with my dad about grilling meat, that’s entertaining,” Dillon said.
He thinks about some day coming back for training at Iowa while he’s in the NFL. Like his goal of getting on the field for the Hawkeyes, he takes each day as an opportunity needed to be taken seriously to get there.
“It starts right now, focusing on short-term goals. I look at it as that you’re not going to experience something now that’s going to happen in the future. That’s helped keep me grounded,” he said.
Dillon comes in as a LEO linebacker. He’s comfortable at the spot having played it in high school, covering receivers and tight ends while supporting the run.
The Iowa coaches will look to Doyle as a leader in the ’18 recruiting class. He knows how things are done. He welcomes the role.
“I have an advantage because I know all the players already and I know the coaches. I certainly don’t expect to be treated any differently than anybody else. I want to approach my work to where kids will look at me to see what they need to do to be successful here; set a good example,” he said.
Doyle played on a youth baseball team with Solon’s Tyler Linderbaum, a defensive tackle in the group. They’ve bonded with the others coming to Iowa City.
It’s a like-minded group, Doyle said.
“We’re all Iowa football kind of guys. We all like to work hard. I think they’re all good kids and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together as a class and how we’ll fit in on the current team,” he said.