Tim Dwight had always been electric on the football field, and when he hung up his cleats, he got involved in another form of electricity.
Dwight, a former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL star, became an investor in the solar industry shortly after his football career. He took particular interest after a trip to Iraq a couple of years after his athletic retirement.
“I thought it would be kind of a cool space to check out, so I invested and took the rest of the year off,” said Dwight, who serves as the president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association.
“Then I took a trip on a USO opportunity (in 2008) and saw what was happening over there and that energy was a big deal in the world. I started to go full on ahead in 2009 to start developing projects, get back to Iowa and get involved.”
The Iowa City native never lost touch with his Iowa roots.
After growing up in the shadow of the University of Iowa, he almost left his hometown when the college coaches came calling, Dwight said. One offer he considered was to play for Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh at Stanford University, before ultimately deciding to play for his hometown Hawkeyes and Hayden Fry.
He said staying in Iowa City made his home games especially fun.
“Every home game was like a true home game for me,” Dwight said. “You have 70,000 people at your back and play for one of the better coaches in college football, and play as a freshman, it was a great opportunity. Every time I went back for a punt, people stood up and got really excited.”
It was his prowess on returns that added to the fervor. When he wrapped up his college career, Dwight had accumulated the most punt return yards and punt return touchdowns in Big Ten history, as well as the Iowa record for most receiving touchdowns and receiving yards.
He was also named a first-team All-American in 1997 and placed seventh in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
After a legendary career as a Hawkeye, Dwight got to experience what most kids dream about: playing in a Super Bowl.
Dwight was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1998 and made his impact early as a kick returner. During his first year in the league, he averaged 27 yards per kick return, including a touchdown. The Falcons went on to reach the Super Bowl, facing John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
“It was out-of-your-mind crazy,” Dwight said. “Everybody dreams of it. You don’t think your rookie year you’ll end up playing in the Super Bowl. Some of those teams we had to play through, the (San Francisco) 49ers in the divisional championship and the 15-1 (Minnesota) Vikings with Randy Moss and Randall Cunningham having a rebirth of his career in the NFC championship, it was nuts.”
While the end result of Super Bowl XXXIII wasn’t what his team was looking for, a 34-19 loss, Dwight certainly made an impact, setting a still-standing Super Bowl record, gaining an average of 42 yards on five kick returns, and his 210 total return yards ranks second all-time.
Dwight also became the fifth player in NFL history to return a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, scampering 94 yards for a fourth-quarter score as the Falcons attempted a comeback.
“Every return I thought, ‘Hey, we are getting further and further to breaking one of these,’ and that last one we broke loose,” he said. “The game was a little out of hand at the time (Denver held a 31-6 lead), but you can’t take that away.”
Dwight was with the Falcons for three years before being traded to the San Diego Chargers in 2001 in a deal that allowed the Falcons to draft Michael Vick. He spent four years in San Diego, playing with the likes of Doug Flutie, Drew Brees and Ladanian Tomlinson. After 2004, Dwight signed a contract with the New England Patriots, spent 2006 with the New York Jets and played for the Oakland Raiders in 2007 before calling it a career.
After his playing career, Dwight started his life as a solar energy advocate. He became a part of the legislative process, helping develop projects and promote the alternative energy around Iowa and the country.
“We’ve got a great product that’s going to push us forward into the 21st century and clean up our energy,” Dwight said. “A lot of policy needs to be hammered out. I’ve been really involved in that for much of the last 10 years.”
Dwight said the passing of the state tax credit is one of his biggest accomplishments during his time in the industry. He also said he loves to see how many jobs solar energy is bringing to the area and how it can help small businesses and farms.
His goal is to see the industry expand, and he hopes to see Iowa become the first state to be completely run with renewable energy. He also would like to see the overall power grid infrastructure improve, which would help those in rural areas affected by power outages. The biggest obstacle in the way is simply price and funding to help make solar power more readily available, he said.
“There’s been a lot of positive things that have happened,” Dwight said. “It’s one thing when you get a law passed and one thing when you are right in the middle of it. It’s a lot of work and we’re still not done. We have a long way to go.”