IOWA CITY – Noah Fant is working to take his game to new heights – literally.
Working toward the start of his junior season, the Iowa tight end recorded a vertical leap of 42.1 inches as part of team’s recent annual strength and conditioning testing.
No tight end in Hawkeye history had accomplished that before.
“It was a goal of mine,’’ said Fant, recalling that George Kittle held the old mark of “41 something.’’
“It was fun. I don’t really know how to describe it. I was pretty juiced up that day. It was a pretty cool experience. People were shocked. Obviously, I want to beat that again.’’
Quarterback Nate Stanley sees that as a realistic possibility.
“We were all doing our verticals at that time, but when you hear a coach say ’42,’ your jaw drops a bit,’’ Stanley said. “That’s getting up there and it takes a pretty special athlete to do that.’’
Regarded as one of the nation’s top collegiate tight ends, Fant fits that description.
He also brushes aside the notion of an early exit for the NFL at this point.
“My only concern right now is just getting better each day,’’ Fant said Tuesday.
Fant’s focus extends beyond the measurables, working on the nuances he understands will make a difference in his consistency this fall.
That is a point of emphasis for Fant as summer work begins at Iowa, where freshmen reported Monday and and strength and conditioning work is ongoing before team sessions begin next week.
“Summer is a good time to build your game and build your body,’’ Fant said. “There are a lot of expectations for the tight ends in our offense and this is the time of year when you want it to all come together.’’
And that is where Fant’s mind is right now.
Fant and sophomore T.J. Hockenson return to lead a deep group of tight ends who will factor in a number of ways to the look of the Hawkeye offense next season.
The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Omaha, Nebraska native finished with 30 receptions covering 494 yards last season while sharing the national lead among tight ends with 11 touchdown catches.
No tight end in the Football Bowl Subdivision averaged more than the 16.5 yards per reception Fant averaged, something that drew additional defensive attention as Iowa’s 8-5 season progressed.
Fant is preparing for more of the same.
He’s added 10 pounds of “good weight’’ without sacrificing any quickness, adding to challenge he expects to present defenders.
“I expect defenses to try and play hard with our tight ends,’’ Fant said. “T.J. had a good season. I caught the ball a few times. We saw defenses focus on that more and more each week. I’m sure defenses are going to focus on our tight ends. That’s the history of our program.’’
That history of developing tight ends led Fant to choose Iowa over Nebraska in the recruiting process, a decision he doesn’t regret.
“That was a big part of it for me. I didn’t want to go to a school where they don’t use their tight ends much, so coming to Iowa was a no-brainer for me,’’ Fant said.
That use opens opportunities for Iowa running backs and receivers and Fant expects the use of multiple tight ends to continue, creating a guessing game for defenses.
Iowa has the depth to make that work, perhaps even more so than a year ago.
Hockenson wasn’t far behind with 24 receptions covering 320 yards at a position where juniors Nate Wieting and Nate Vejvoda and converted receiver Shaun Beyer are expected to bolster a versatile collection of prospects.
Their collective abilities are being counted on not only to help Iowa’s passing game, but to provide the blocking needed to make the Hawkeye ground game go as it adjusts to new primary running backs.
“We know how good of a group we can have this season,’’ Fant said. “We believe we are going to be able to do some damage in the run game with the way we play the game.’’