Iowa tight end Noah Fant sidesteps the hype surrounding him, focuses on blocking

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Noah Fant is not a passenger on his own hype train.

“My dad. My brother. All of them are on Twitter. That’s their job,” Iowa’s junior tight end said. “I kind of keep those lives separate. As a parent should be, they’re proud. They’re excited, all that stuff. But my job is to play football. My job is to focus on what I can improve on.”

Noah Fant hype has been hard to avoid this summer. After setting a Hawkeye record for tight ends with 11 touchdown catches a season ago, he’s been making preseason all-American lists, and first-round NFL draft projection lists, and really any list being made by any lister. He’s on the short list of most-listed college football player.

Iowa tight end Noah Fant bumps fists with a fan after a Kids Day practice on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

This is not something many Hawkeye players have to deal with. But no Hawkeye player has ever been 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, with a vertical leap of 42.1 inches and enough straight-line speed to rival most wide receivers.

So it begs the question: In today’s world of easy access to anything being said or written about an athlete on the Internet, how does Fant keep himself from sneaking a peek at his own rapidly rising national profile?

“If I did pay attention, I feel like it could hurt me or hurt our team,” he said. “Nobody wants to be that guy that pays attention to the hype and then loses track of what he’s doing himself.”

And there is plenty for Fant to work on heading into his third college season. He is the first to admit this.

“I feel like I’m a decent blocker. I feel like there’s always room to improve, though,” Fant said.

This is the surest way to more playing time for an Iowa tight end. Last year, Fant was often on the sideline while T.J. Hockenson saw the most action at the position.

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Fant said coaches never told him why he wasn’t an every-down player, but he seems to know the answer.

“I 100 percent feel that if you can’t block as a tight end, you’re going to get limited playing time,” Fant said.

That means run-blocking has been an area of focus. Fant said he’s learned to embrace the less glamorous part of playing tight end.

“If I make a big block and our running back goes squirting up the field for 50 yards, or I catch a pass for 50 yards, it’s the same thing because we’re just as close to the end zone,” he said.

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As talented as Fant is, he has never caught more than four passes in a game, a feat he accomplished once — in a 55-24 victory over Ohio State last season. He only had 30 receptions last fall, although he averaged a gaudy 16.5 yards on them with a long of 68 against his home-state Nebraska team.

Being a better run-blocker will keep Fant on the field more. Staying on the field will increase his opportunities to make plays downfield, even though he’s certain to see extra attention from opposing defenses.

Fant’s NFL role models are Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Jimmy Graham. Those tight ends are not famous because of their blocking.

In a similar vein, Fant is likely to be lined up all over the field this season as Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz seeks out mismatches for his best athlete.

Fant said he enjoys playing for Ferentz, who also coaches tight ends, a role he previously had with the New England Patriots. One of his pupils there was Gronkowski.

“You can’t get by with certain little lazy things,” Fant said of working with Ferentz. “He gets us better every day.”

So that must mean Fant is poised to top his production from a year ago, right? The tight end considered the question. It must have felt like a trap.

“I don’t know. The season hasn’t been played yet,” Fant said. “All I can do personally is play as hard as I can, play as well as I can, and keep working.”

In other words, let the hype train chug along without Fant.