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Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz says he was disappointed to see Noah Fant skip the bowl game, but he understands the decision. Listen in: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nate Stanley has thrown 49 touchdown passes in his Iowa career, and 18 of them have gone to tight end Noah Fant.

So, of course, Stanley had mixed reactions when he learned last week that he would be quarterbacking the Hawkeyes in a bowl game without one of his favorite targets.

Stanley is happy that Fant, a junior, is skipping the Outback Bowl to get ready for the NFL Draft.

“He’s a great guy. I think he’ll have a tremendous career,” Stanley said of Fant.

“Obviously, (I’m) disappointed because he’s such a big part of our offense. And what he does allows a lot of other people to get open. So I think there’s a lot of production that’s going to be missed.”

Tight ends like Nate Wieting and Drew Cook will get their shots at replacing Fant as the Hawkeyes prepare to face Mississippi State in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl.

In the meantime, no Hawkeye player or coach Sunday was blaming Fant for becoming the first player in program history to forego playing in a bowl game. It’s becoming a trend nationally. Fant is a potential first-round NFL pick in April.

“Everybody's got to make a decision about how they want to handle their future, their course of action, and ultimately, you want guys on the bus and on the sideline that are fully invested in it. What we do is so hard and so competitive that if you're not fully into it, it's not good for anybody,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Fant.

“I certainly respect Noah's decision. I think it's something he and his family felt was best for him and his interests.”

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Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley says he'll likely be back for his senior season, and offers his thoughts on Noah Fant's early departure. Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Junior safety Amani Hooker, who will explore his own NFL possibilities this month, said he’s definitely going to play in the Outback Bowl. But he was one of the players Fant called the day before his decision to let them know.

“Congratulations. That’s huge. You’re going to be successful, bro,” was the message Hooker gave Fant.

Senior kicker Miguel Recinos summed up the attitude of the team regarding Fant, who caught 39 passes for 519 yards and seven touchdowns in what will be his final Hawkeye season.

“Noah’s a very talented guy, so I can understand how he would be looking out for his own career and have that as his primary concern,” Recinos said. “They need to really be paying attention to their opportunities as an athlete because you can’t do it forever.  And you need to be wise about how you market yourself and the opportunities that you give yourself and the risks that you’re taking.

“It’s his decision and I think we as a team respect that and wish him the best.”

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