IOWA CITY — Nate Wieting’s introduction to the reality of Iowa football was delivered on the practice field by Drew Ott.
“When you’ve got 280 pounds of defensive end coming at you that first time, you realize pretty quickly you’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ Wieting recalled Tuesday.
“It’s that way for everybody, though. That’s part of the culture here. You work every day to improve and eventually put yourself in a position to play. That first one, two years, it can be tough. But, eventually you start to win a few of those battles.’’
And ultimately, players find themselves ready to compete.
That’s where Wieting finds himself as his senior season approaches.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end from Rockford Lutheran in Illinois has seen both the field and the training room during his collegiate career.
He gained 51 yards on two receptions while seeing action in 12 games a year ago, finally moving beyond the four surgeries he underwent during his first three seasons with the Hawkeyes.
Now healthy, Wieting has been toughened by his experiences since arriving at Iowa.
Collectively, they have prepared him to prove a point as his senior season approaches at a tight end position where the Hawkeyes were led last season by a pair of all-American performers.
Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson may have taken their skills to the next level, but Wieting believes the tight end cupboard at Iowa is hardly bare.
“We have good talent in the room,’’ he said. “Those two guys, Noah and T.J., they had incredible seasons last year, but the rest of the tight ends have been working hard, too, and we know we can play the game. We’re excited for camp to start and see where it leads.’’
Iowa coaches have compared the detail-oriented approach Wieting brings to the position to the way Henry Krieger-Coble took on nuances of playing tight end when Wieting was a freshman.
Krieger-Coble played his best football at Iowa as a senior, something Wieting expects from himself as well.
He said he has learned from the success Fant and Hockenson enjoyed a year ago, playing at a level which positioned both to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
He has also benefited from lining up across from defensive ends like Ott, Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson, Sam Brincks, Matt Nelson and now Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa.
“All of those guys have helped make me a better player,’’ Wieting said. “Whether it’s from working with them or being on the other side of the ball from them, they’ve all helped me improve. That’s what we’re all about.’’
Wieting knows he doesn’t necessarily bring the same quickness to the position that Fant displayed, but believes he can use timely bursts to his advantage.
“If I do a good job with my footwork at the top of the routes, work the defender and play smart football, good things can happen,’’ he said, adding that a lot of it comes down to mastering detail work.
Wieting isn’t alone.
Shaun Beyer is preparing for his fourth season at Iowa and like Wieting, Drew Cook is a fifth-year senior.
“That’s a lot of experience and we are looking to put together a nice season,’’ Wieting said. “Drew and Shaun are incredible guys, both have high ceilings and both are great athletes. We come to work every day, bring a good attitude and are enthusiastic. Now, it’s time to put it all together.’’
Fant and Hockenson, like George Kittle and Krieger-Coble in previous seasons, have helped create an expected standard of excellence for Iowa tight ends.
Wieting doesn’t mind that at all.
“That’s a good thing,’’ he said. “The guys in the room are trying to improve, get in shape for the season and when camp rolls around in August, it will be about improving fundamentals, technique, getting in shape and showing what we can do.’’
And once that happens, as Wieting puts it, “A year ago at this time, T.J. probably wasn’t thinking much about being in the NFL today but he earned that. You never know what might happen.’’