IOWA CITY — The little brother followed big brother to football and track practice. The age difference is seven years, so the youngest child of Denny and Connie Alvis couldn’t just jump right in.
Dominic Alvis, 22, trucked around with his brother, Nathaniel. He also went to his older sisters’ sporting events. He sang with his dad and his family, in church and in school choir.
Little pieces of it all stuck with the Iowa senior defensive end.
“He talks as though I was at his side all the time,” said Nathaniel Alvis, the big brother. “But really, he was following in my shadow and I didn’t even realize it. I was the blind teenager. Maybe I inspired him, he went everywhere with me, but, to be honest, no way I can’t take any credit.”
When you’re the youngest of four kids and you live in Logan, a town of 1,400 that has only recently acquainted itself with a stop light, there is a distillation process. The pace is often set by the oldest, in this case Nathaniel, but the lead changes hands so much in a lifetime. The youngest has the advantage of taking seeing successes earned and lessons learned.
“I learned from their mistakes,” Dominic Alvis said with a laugh. “I had the privilege and seeing what they did before me. In my defense, I got dragged to each and every one of their sporting events and they were in everything. That’s how I grew up.”
Nathaniel, 29, played defensive end and ran the high hurdles for Logan-Magnolia. Dominic played defensive end and qualified for the state track meet in the 110-meter high hurdles.
“Nathaniel was good,” said Dominic, a 6-4, 265-pounder who had two tackles for loss in Iowa’s opener. “He played defensive end and he ran the high hurdles. When it came time, I was a defensive end and I ran the high hurdles. I had a great model to follow.”
Sports weren’t the only thing.
Denny Alvis wanted to be opera singer. He was in a rock band, the Walker Street Blues — think of the band Chicago, Dominic said — while in high school. He grew up a farm kid, but, as Nathaniel says, “he has a real zest for culture.”
So, the singing and the theater. Those were big deals in the Alvis household, too.
Sisters Erika, 31, and Alexis, 26, were frontrunners here. Alexis sang the national anthem at many events in the Logan-Magnolia school district. She was an American Idol contestant, making it out to Hollywood but getting cut before making it to the show. (She did, however, become good friends with David Cook, the winner of the seventh season.) She continues to compete, making it to the second round of “The Voice” just last month.
“She’s great, but she’s terrible about picking out songs,” Nathaniel said with a laugh.
Dominic downplayed the singing. Downplayed it big time. “All my brothers and sisters had to do it, so I had to do it, too,” he said.
But, thanks to Logan-Magnolia athletics director Will Azinger, we have his acting credentials: As a freshman, he played Judge Hawthorne in “The Crucible.” Sophomore year, it was Emil DeBecque in “South Pacific.” And his junior year he played Charlie Davenport in “Annie Get Your Gun.”
More recently, he played a henchman in the independent film “The Wedge,” filmed in Iowa City.
“They are such a well-rounded family,” said Logan-Magnolia football coach Matt Straight. “Mom and dad were always around, they were very supportive, not just in sports but in everything.”
Dad introduced the singing, Connie brought spirit.
“The first person I would credit for anything is an insanely optimistic mother,” Nathaniel said. “She told us we could be president someday and she wasn’t kidding.”
No one is president, but remember the distillation and pace families set for themselves.
Nathaniel is the family doctor in Logan. He started in Omaha, but wanted his three children to grow up where he grew up, a place that has a barbecue joint named “Six Pack and a Rib Rack” and where Nathaniel remembered swearing once in public — once — and was met by his dad at the front door when he got home.
“My kids [ages 12 to 4] have never been happier,” Nathaniel said.
Alexis and Erika live in Colorado. Alexis is following singing; Erika is director of a center that cares for autistic young adults.
And, oh yeah, Dominic plays a brutal sport on one of the highest levels.
“The family is a talented bunch,” Azinger said. “I don’t know if they’re an anomaly, but I think it’s pretty cool.”
Dominic wants to take football as far as possible. Right now, that’s this season with the Hawkeyes. He’s not into the future. The communications and sports marketing major has given sales some thought. He hasn’t given much thought to the perpetual chunk in his forehead that he gets from his helmet every game. That might take some surgery.
“We’ll see if insurance will pay for it, but I doubt they will,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know if it’s cosmetic or what. I’m not too worried about that, either. Not right now.”
Speaking of the pace a family sets, Denny Alvis is the Harrison County assessor, a job that sometimes takes him into conflict over land value, taxes and the like.
“He’s not very well liked at certain times of the year,” Dominic said. Nathaniel added, “He’s taken it in the chops a few times.”
Dominic said his dad is eyeing retirement. You know a man with a “zest for culture” won’t take to the couch. Denny is setting the pace.
This summer, Dominic dug the holes on the family’s five acres for posts that will someday soon hold a vineyard.
“He’ll becoming a full-time grape farmer,” Dominic said. “He’s got a vineyard going. I’m the guy who had to dig all of the holes. There are over 300 plants on our property that he’s cultivating. He’s going to sell those grapes to make wine. Maybe he’ll dabble.”
This family doesn’t dabble. They don’t seem to know the meaning of the word.