IOWA CITY — Nathan Bazata is still working to find his way back onto the football field.
More than seven months after initially suffering a high-ankle sprain in a game against Wisconsin, the Iowa senior defensive tackle finds himself still attempting to recover from the setback.
“It’s been difficult, something that has taken a lot longer than I thought it would,’’ Bazata said on Wednesday, two days into the start of summer strength and conditioning work for the Hawkeyes.
He’s still not 100 percent, continuing to cope with the remnants of the initial injury as well as a couple of minor offseason setbacks.
They all added up to Bazata seeing only limited duty late in his junior season, being withheld from spring practices and participating only on a limited basis as the Hawkeyes’ summer strength and conditioning work begins.
“I’m not there yet, but by August, I’ll be good,’’ Bazata said. “It’s an important time and I can’t wait to be back out there.’’
Iowa needs Bazata, and it needs him healthy.
Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie have completed their eligibility, leaving Bazata as the only returning player from the Hawkeyes’ rotation at defensive tackle last season.
Bazata spent the spring doing what he can to help bring younger players up to speed, work that continues this summer.
A 24-game starter on the interior of the Hawkeye defensive front over the past two seasons, Bazata now works to share his knowledge with sophomores Cedrick Lattimore, Brady Reiff and Garret Jansen.
“As long as I’m helping in some way, that’s the biggest help I can be,’’ Bazata said. “The biggest thing I can do right now is help them grow and improve.’’
He finds himself passing along the same things he learned when he was a wide-eyed rookie in the Hawkeye program.
“It seems a little weird being the old guy around here now,’’ Bazata said. “It seems like I just got here, but it goes fast and I’ve had a lot of help along the way. I’m trying to do the same.’’
Bazata recalls being mentored by Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis, Hawkeye defensive tackles who went on take their games to the NFL — Trinca-Pasat with the Rams and Davis with the Ravens.
“We put a lot of time in on technique work and Louie and Carl helped me a lot with that when I got here and I’ve been trying to pass that all along to the young guys,’’ Bazata said. “I’ve tried to model my game after Louie from a technique standpoint.’’
He said Trinca-Pasat was big on taking one aspect of technique work and spending a day focusing on that one thing as a way to ultimately make overall improvement.
“That really worked for me and that’s something I’ve been working with the young guys on, taking one thing, working on it, then moving on to another area and spending a day concentrating on that,’’ Bazata said.
“If we’re going to get to where we need to be in the fall, that’s the kind of work we have to put in now. This leads to how good we can become once the season starts.’’
As they work, so does Bazata.
His hope is to be at full strength by the time fall camp begins.
“That’s going to happen. That’s what I want to get done and I’m looking forward to be totally healthy again,’’ Bazata said. “It’s been long enough.’’