Iowa TE Noah Fant preps for bigger role in '18

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Despite setting records last fall, Iowa tight end Noah Fant went largely unnoticed outside of the Big Ten West.

That shouldn't be the case in 2018.

Fant will return for his junior season with the Hawkeyes as one of the nation's most intriguing pro prospects at his position. The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Fant has size, speed, athleticism and a knack for finding the end zone. Fant caught 30 passes a year ago, 11 for touchdowns. That was a school record for tight ends, and his 16.5 yards per catch led the nation for his position.

The Hawkeyes are expecting either bigger numbers next fall, despite the fact that defenses will be more focused on shutting Fant down.

"He's a great athlete — and he pushes himself," junior quarterback Nata Stanley said. "He works hard. There (are) a lot of things that he's tried to improve on."

Even with all the modern tweaks that second-year coordinator Brian Ferentz has brought to Iowa's once-stagnant offense, the Hawkeyes remain committed to a physical and balanced attack. It demands a lot from tight ends, and Iowa has had its share of good ones under 20-year coach Kirk Ferentz.

Fant might be the most gifted one yet.

It was obvious that Fant had a chance to be special as a prep star for Omaha South in Nebraska, where he was a first-team all-state tight end and defensive end while also running track and playing basketball. Iowa used him as a true freshman, which is rarely does at any spot on the line, and by his sophomore year he had earned a starting job.

Fant's first game in 2017 was a sign of things to come, as he caught two passes and wound up in the end zone after each of them. Fant would also record multiple TD receptions in wins over Ohio State and Nebraska — the latter performance especially painful for Huskers fans who hated losing a local kid to a border rival like Iowa.

"My goals are to help my team as much as possible. Last year, that involved me catching passes and scoring some touchdowns and stuff like that," Fant said. "This year, if it involves me blocking more, or whatever our offense needs me to do, then that's my goal to do."

Following the NFL draft, numerous publications posting mock drafts for 2019 had Fant listed as a possible first-round selection.

Though Fant said he didn't pay much attention to such speculation, the pieces are in place for him to have the kind of year that might allow him to leave early.

Iowa's wide receivers remain a relatively inexperienced bunch, and the Hawkeyes will also be breaking in a pair of new running backs. Fant will enter 2018 as Iowa's most versatile skill position player, and in Brian Ferentz — who coached stars Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as the tight ends coach in New England — he has a coordinator skilled in getting players like him open.

Fant has been doing his part in offseason workouts; he recently broke the school record for tight ends in the vertical jump at 42 inches. The previous record was held by San Francisco's George Kittle, a player Fant could be joining in the NFL sooner rather than later.

"My plan was to come here and do big things with the opportunity that I had. I feel like my career so far has gone all right. I can keep improving on it though," Fant said.

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