IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nathan Bazata wasn’t built to be a football player for an elite program like Ohio State or Michigan, or even for his home-state school Nebraska, which hardly is elite anymore.
Instead, he was built to be an Iowa Hawkeye.
That means slightly undersized, mostly overlooked and determined to prove the naysayers wrong.
A native of tiny Howells, Neb., Bazata (pronounced Budget-uh) is coming off a sophomore season in which he started all 14 games at defensive tackle.
The same kid who had virtually no scholarship offers until Iowa entered the picture is now poised to do something special as a Hawkeye.
Bazata could be a three-year starter before he is finished at Iowa. That would put him in elite company, although, it’s hard to tell judging from the current roster.
Most of the current starters on the team are just like Bazata; players who are poised to be multi-year starters if they stay healthy and stay ahead of the competition.
Senior cornerback Desmond King and sophomore defensive end Parker Hesse are on track to be four-year starters.
Offensive linemen Sean Welsh, Ike Boettger, Boone Myers and James Daniels, linebackers Ben Niemann and Josey Jewell, receiver Jerminic Smith and defensive backs Greg Mabin and Miles Taylor all have started at least one game and could leave Iowa as three-year starters.
Heading the list of two-year starters is quarterback C.J. Beathard, along with receiver Matt VandeBerg, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and offensive lineman Cole Croston.
Tight end George Kittle is close to being a two-year starter after starting six games last season.
Sophomore free safety Brandon Snyder and sophomore defensive end Matt Nelson haven’t started a game, but they both could leave as three-year starters, barring injuries and changes in the depth chart.
The same with whoever wins the competition at weakside linebacker between junior Bo Bower and sophomore Aaron Mends. Bower already has started for an entire season in 2014 and has two seasons of eligibility remaining, while Mends has three seasons of eligibility.
So with exception to the two running back positions, every current starter is either well on his way to being a multi-year starter or in position to be one.
That would seem to be a strength and a reason why Iowa is having yet another resurgence under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz.
Iowa’s starting lineup has a considerable amount of talent, which in a case like Bazata, was under-appreciated until he took the big stage in college.
And there appears to be more on the way as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said as many as 10 true freshmen could play this season. Playing as a true freshmen is often the first step in becoming a multi-year starter.
The depth chart being fluid at this point is not unusual, but it’s rare for so many true freshmen to be in the mix for playing time.
“The moves that are caused by injuries that’s common, although, that rotates and we’ve had more than a handful of those right now, and that adds to the consistency," Ferentz said Tuesday. “But then right along with that, we’re looking hard at some guys at all positions basically, maybe not for a starting (position) but who is going to be the next guy in at tackle, that type of thing.
“And that’s really pretty much across the board, including special teams. So I think it’s common, but maybe a little bit bigger influx of first-year guys. I could see maybe anywhere from six to ten guys getting their feet in the water this year.”
Getting your feet wet on special teams is often the first step in becoming a multi-year starter. There are exceptions like King, but most of the Iowa players with exception to the linemen make their first impact on special teams.
Bazata appeared briefly in nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2014. The 6-foot2, 285-pounder earned a starting position the following spring and still has it, along with the experience he gained from starting 14 games last season.
Bazata is now working to expand his game by using more technique in the trenches. It’s also his way of protecting his starting position.
“I’m just really being detailed with my hands because if guys get their hands on you, they’re going to latch on to you and it’s really hard to get off,’ Bazata said. “Last year, all I was doing was taking guys down the middle and not using my hands and feet.
“So I had to take a big step forward with that.”