IOWA CITY – In Noah Fant’s world, a four tight-end set would be living a dream.
“The more tight ends on the field, the better,’’ the Iowa sophomore said. “If we could get everybody on the field at once, that would be awesome.’’
That might be a bit of a stretch, but there is no doubt Fant and the other tight ends on the Hawkeye roster will play a significant role in the Iowa offense this season.
With a lack of experience at the receiver position, tight ends can be expected to have more balls come their way as whoever wins Iowa’s starting quarterback job works to move the offense.
Things will be a bit of a work in progress at tight end as well when the Hawkeyes open fall camp in about four weeks.
George Kittle, who caught 22 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns last season, has taken his game to the San Francisco 49ers.
Senior Peter Pekar returns after making eight starts last season, but caught just one pass a year ago and sophomore Nate Wieting made three starts in 2016, but joined sophomore Nate Vejvoda and senior Jon Wisnieski in not recording a reception.
Fant did catch nine passes last fall as a true freshman, gaining 70 yards and scoring one touchdown.
T.J. Hockenson and Shaun Beyer, who both redshirted last fall as freshmen, displayed pass-catching ability in the spring as well and Fant welcomes the competition.
“All of our tight ends have been getting some good targets and we’re loving it,’’ Fant said. “We love being in a position to catch that ball.’’
Iowa tight ends coach LeVar Woods sees similarities in the skill sets that Fant, Hokenson and Beyer bring to the field.
“All three of those guys are good young prospects,’’ Woods said. “All three can stretch the field a little bit. They’re all developing as run blockers. Again, they’re not there yet by any stretch of the imagination as either a receiver or blocker, but they’re working really hard at it.’’
Fant’s ability to stretch the field was apparent last season and Woods believes he is a bit underrated as a blocker.
“He needs to refine his technique, but he has the ability to stretch the field and do a lot of good things,’’ Woods said.
Now listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, the Omaha native has experienced gains in strength and quickness during the offseason and feels more prepared than ever as he prepares for his sophomore season.
“There were some nerves last season, but I tried to keep it real,’’ Fant said.
He relied on advice from the older tight ends on the Hawkeye roster to make it work.
He calls their help “invaluable’’ and said the experience he gained by working and talking with them was as important as the time he spent on the field last fall.
“The biggest thing I learned was learning from our vets,’’ Fant said. “We had George Kittle, he was our guy. That was what I tried to do most as a young guy, learn from those older guys and I think it made me a better player.’’
Some of the advice may seem a bit simplistic, but Fant found it very realistic.
“They just told me to relax. Bring it back down to the true thing it is. It’s just playing football,’’ Fant said. “I learned a lot from those guys.’’
His objective now includes applying what he learned as he steps into an increased role accompanied by increased expectations for performance.
“I’m embracing the challenge fully. We have some big shoes to fill with George leaving us but I think we’re all up to it. I know I’m looking forward to taking that next step,’’ Fant said.
“The tight end will always be a big part of what we do at Iowa and the challenge in front of us now is to continue to make it effective, whether we are blocking or being asked to catch the ball. That’s our job.’’