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Iowa's undersized defensive end doing big things

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nate Meier stood out at Camp Randall Stadium last Saturday.

“He was certainly the small guy out there, and that was the land of giants,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was a tale of two cities.”

Two cities, one goal: win a physical, smash-mouth Big Ten football game. Meier’s team did just that. Iowa beat Wisconsin 10-6. Heart shot an arrow through size.

“The good news is he’s got a big heart,” Ferentz said.

Meier made two huge fourth-quarter plays that helped keep the reborn Hawkeyes undefeated. The first came with Iowa clinging to a 10-6 lead and Wisconsin a yard away from the lead. Meier smashed into Wisconsin left guard Michael Deiter, which started a chain reaction. Deiter stepped on the foot of quarterback Joel Stave, who missed the exchange with running back Dare Ogunbowale. Iowa’s Faith Ekakitie recovered the fumble.

Deiter stands 6-foot-6, and weighs 316 pounds. Meier is 6-2, 252.

“I just came off the ball as low as I could and I shot the gap,” Meier explained.

And then, with Wisconsin facing a fourth-and-2 from the Iowa 16 in the final minute, Meier’s pressure on Stave helped force an incompletion. Game over. A 5-0 record, and a national ranking for the first time in 2010.

“Like our coaches always tell us, bend, don’t break,” said Meier, an eight-player football star at Fremont-Mills who once ran for a state-record 10 touchdowns in one game and rushed for 528 yards in another.

Meier is proof, once again, at what an inexact science recruiting is. He was a two-star recruit. His other offers were from Northern Iowa and South Dakota.

“He looked like John Riggins out there playing eight-man football, just running everyone over,” Ferentz said. “We weren’t sure where he would play. But we thought he was a football player.”

When Meier got to campus his assigned roommate at the Hillcrest dorm was another farm kid and eight-player product out of Nebraska. His name was Drew Ott. They are now the starting ends of this resilient defense, the only one in the nation that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season.

“Like our coaches always harp on, we have to stop the run,” Meier said.

Ott is not wild about Meier’s penchant for wearing neon-hued clothing, but the two have become rock-solid friends. Two kids who learned the value of hard work on the farm and carried it over to the football field.

“He’s a little shorter and smaller,” Ott said. “But he’s pretty strong and explosive.”

Meier was a man of many positions at Fremont-Mills.

“Everything but safety,” said Meier, who even kicked off.

After his team won the eight-player title in 2011 with an 81-0 victory over Murray, Meier came to Iowa expecting that his future was at running back.

“My freshman year, I bounced around a lot,” Meier said.

Running back one week, linebacker the next. Back and forth.

“The coaches said, 'We have a plan,’ ” Meier recalled. “I was like, 'You’re smarter than me. You know football better than me, I’ll take your word for it.' I rotated the whole year. I couldn’t get anything down.”

Ferentz said the goal is to recruit good players, and then find a spot for them. For Meier, that turned out to be defensive end. Meier saw his first significant action there in 2013 as part of Iowa’s third-down Raider package. He became a starter as a junior, and will start his 19th consecutive game Saturday against Illinois.

“It all worked out,” Meier said.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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The Register's Chad Leistikow and Rick Brown preview the Hawkeyes' game against Illinois.

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