Fant inherits the mantle of 'biggest mismatch' for Iowa offense

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Noah Fant was attempting to give the reasonable answer to a reporter’s question.

“If our offense needs me to score, that’s what I’m going to try to do,” the Iowa tight end said last week when asked if he feels any extra weight on his shoulders after a breakout sophomore season that saw him catch 11 touchdown passes.

It was then pointed out to Fant that reaching the end zone was precisely what the Hawkeyes will need him to do this fall.

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Iowa tight end Noah Fant celebrates as he runs in for a touchdown during the Hawkeyes' game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

Fant accepted the logic of that statement and made a smooth adjustment.

“We’re going to have to put points on the board. So touchdowns are going to have to be scored,” Fant said. “And I’m hoping to be the guy scoring them.”

That’s precisely what Iowa players, coaches and fans should want to hear from Fant, the most dynamic athlete the team will have this season. The meek may inherit the Earth someday, but they’re going to have a difficult time inhabiting the end zone in Big Ten Conference football games.

With the graduation of Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, Fant inherits the mantle of “biggest mismatch.” Now, he must pick it up and run with it.

“I wouldn’t say it was a burden. I know that our offense is going to be counting on our older guys to produce. I know that’s my job and I know that that’s one of my motivating factors of why I have to work so hard. I’m preparing for that,” Fant said of the prospect of taking on a larger role in an Iowa offense that was inconsistent throughout 2017. “Those moments aren’t earned during the season. Those moments are earned now when we’re grinding through all this stuff.”

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Fant caught only 30 passes during Iowa’s 8-5 season last fall. The fact that 11 of them resulted in touchdowns was remarkable. But Fant was also too quiet at times, with just eight catches in Iowa’s five losses, including his lone game without a reception in the Hawkeyes’ worst offensive showing in a generation, a 38-14 setback at Wisconsin.

For his encore season, Fant has added 10 pounds, up to 242 on his 6-foot-5 frame. He said he feels just as fast as a year ago, and the extra weight is helping him with his run-blocking. That’s an area where he wants to improve greatly. It will help him be an every-down player.

Fant has added a pair of glasses that he uses for reading (and conducting interviews), but what he really wants is to be able to read defenses better, to run crisper routes and become a go-to option for quarterback Nate Stanley in their second year of starting together.

“I feel like defenses are going to be smart in what they do and cover different guys and throw different coverages at us,” Fant said. “That’s the job of our coaches is to bring something different to the table and bring us different offensive sets or different offensive play-calls to put us at a higher advantage than those defenses have.”

To that end, Fant said he enjoys being able to line up in nontraditional places for a tight end. He can play on the line, but also in the slot or split out wide. He even carried the ball twice last year, although for minus-1 net yards.

Still, Fant can give defenses something to worry about, a challenge other Hawkeyes simply don’t pose.

“I feel like we have a lot of guys that can be mismatches,” Fant said, mentioning fellow tight end T.J. Hockenson and leading wide receiver Nick Easley. “I feel like we could achieve some pretty special stuff.”

What the amiable Fant was too polite to say was that he needs to be in the center of that effort. He has an NFL skill-set, much like the guy he replaced in the lineup, current San Francisco 49er George Kittle.

Finally, Fant was asked if he had a touchdown goal in mind for 2018. He said he didn’t want to put a number on it.

“I like scoring touchdowns,” he said. “If I could score 20 touchdowns, that would be great.”

That would be great. For Fant and the Hawkeyes.