IOWA CITY, Iowa – If Nate Meier had his way, he’d still play running back.
It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy being a starting defensive end for the Iowa football team. He just loves everything about being a running back, the glamour, the rushing yards and the opportunity to score touchdowns before adoring fans.
“I wish, but what do you do now?” Meier said to reporters on Thursday.
What you do is accept your role as a team-first guy and then make the best of it.
Meier still longs to play running back, but he understands why he doesn’t have that role for the Hawkeyes.
Meier is yet another example of how sports can be humbling. As dominant as he was as a high school running back, it didn’t matter when he became a Hawkeye. His rushing exploits helped him get to Iowa on scholarship, but that was it.
They now fill pages in a scrapbook, while life goes on.
“It’s whatever I can do to help the team out,” said Meier, a 6-foot-2, 252-pound native of Tabor, a tiny town in southwestern Iowa.
Meier was an overpowering eight-man player at Freemont-Mills High School. He was named eight-man Player of the Year as a senior and led his team to the state title. He rushed for 2,494 yards and scored 57 touchdowns as a senior alone, at times appearing like a man competing against boys.
He was recruited to Iowa as an athlete, which in recruiting vernacular means the ability to play multiple positions.
Meier spent his true freshman year in 2012 switching back and forth from running back to linebacker. He burned a year of eligibility despite only making one appearance against Central Michigan on special teams.
“It was one of those deals where I was like, ‘man, do they know where I’m going to play?” Meier said of the Iowa coaches. “I was there being a linebacker and then one week I’d move back to running back because our running backs were hurt.
“It was kind of chaotic. But then my sophomore year in spring ball, they were like, we’re really low on defensive ends. Do you think you can do it? And I said, `alright. I’ll try it.’”
Decisions like that happen all the time in big-time college football. It’s sort of like piecing together a puzzle.
The Iowa coaches apparently felt that Meier had enough talent and the right mindset to be a contributor. It was just a matter of picking the right position for him.
“It was definitely mind blowing when they told me I was moving to defensive end,” Meier said. “I was actually kind of mad because I didn’t know if I could do it. I was having doubts.”
The Iowa coaches helped to erase those doubts by having faith in Meier. They also told him about other players who thrived at Iowa after switching to defensive end, players like Matt Roth and Broderick Binns.
“They were like, ‘yeah, they were undersized guys, but they got the job done every time,”’ Meier said of Roth and Binns. “And they were like, `if we didn’t think you could do it, we wouldn’t put you here.”
Meier is undersized for a major college defensive end, especially in terms of his height. He compensates with quickness, technique and a mean streak.
Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan once referred to Meier as a violent football player. And he meant it as a compliment.
“I’m a very intense guy on the field,” Meier said. “I’m a really nice guy like right now. But when I’m on the field, I really don’t want to be your friend. I’m trying to embarrass you every time. That’s really my mentality.”
Meier has progressed in each of his first three seasons with the Hawkeyes. From barely playing as a true freshman to appearing in all 13 games as a sophomore to starting all 13 games as a junior, Meier’s ascent has been steady, but not spectacular.
Iowa already has one all-Big Ten caliber defensive end in fellow senior Drew Ott, who is Meier’s close friend. Ott went from being pretty good to real good last season, earning second-team all-Big Ten accolades.
Meier needs to make a similar move in order to help a defense that unraveled at the end of last season. There will be a new starter at both defensive tackle positions, so it’s imperative that Meier and Ott both perform at a high level and stay healthy.
Adding to the concern is the that both backup defensive ends – redshirt freshmen Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse – have no game experience.
“They’re both young guys that are trying to get some playing time this season,” Ott said of Nelson and Hesse. “So they’re hungry and they’re pushing us to do our best.”
Meier still thinks about playing running back every and now and then. He admires and respects those who star at the position, players like former Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
“What surprised me about him was just his balance and his agility to cut through the holes and stuff like that,” Meier said of Gordon. “That was impressive.”
Meier used to cut through holes and plow through defenders in high school. And maybe he’ll get a chance to do it again someday.
His size almost certainly will prevent him from playing defensive end in the NFL. But what about fullback?
“I’m open for anything,” Meier said with a look of excitement.
He already proved that by switching to defensive end.