IOWA CITY -- It is not easy playing defensive line at the University of Iowa.
Iowa believes in the "two gap" technique, which has the D-lineman target the bottom of an offensive lineman's helmet and center of their chest. The idea is to control the lineman and, thus, control both gaps over your shoulders.
Obviously, this requires every piece bit of technique and oomph imaginable. If you're young and undersized and trying to learn the "two gap," it can break you. It nearly broke Louis Trinca-Pasat.
Last December, the 6-3, 283-pound sophomore defensive tackle had one foot out of Iowa City.
“There was a period right after Thanksgiving, I think it might have been," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He had gone home and came in and said, basically, he wasn’t sure about playing. I thought it was a mistake certainly, so I encouraged him to take a couple of days away from it. I think he missed two practices."
When you consider the road Trinca-Pasat took to two-gap defensive tackle at Iowa, you do have to squint to see it.
First, Trinca-Pasat's parents, Estera and Vasile, are from Romania. They've been in the states for just 20 years, and Louis is the only one of their five children born here. So, there's that.
Mainly, he played defensive end and tight end at Lane Tech in Chicago when Iowa recruited him. He also played some wide receiver. Trinca-Pasat only started playing football when he was a freshman at Lane Tech, where he caught eight TD passes as a senior.
He arrived at Iowa in January of 2010, an early enrollee and a bona fide defensive tackle project at 235 or so pounds.
"You have to eat healthy, eat protein. You have to lift," Trinca-Pasat said. "All of it eventually adds up. It's been about two years now. It takes some time getting used to the weight, but it's coming along."
This spring he was up to 283, a nearly 45-pound gain in a little more than two years.
"I never really understood that myself," Trinca-Pasat said. "I know a lot of the older guys, like [former Hawkeyes] Karl (Klug) and Mike Daniels, they told me to take some time to get used to your weight.
"At first, you put on the weight and you're a little off balance. You might be a little slower than normal. The conditioning also takes some time, but once you reach that weight and consistently working with it, it starts to come naturally.
"It feels like I'm playing at 243 again."
You need a certain kind of body to play two-gap D-lineman. Before you saw him break into the lineup at tackle this fall -- where he has 18 tackles, including three for loss -- Trinca-Pasat's position was "development."
"Maybe a year ago, I remember looking at him and asking, 'How much do you weigh, man?' " senior defensive tackle Steve Bigach said. "He really did kind of put it all on there and made himself a body that can play in the Big Ten and that's important, too."
It's the kind of body that is handed down through accidental and essential genetics or that's built during long weightroom sessions, mostly, in major-college football and in Iowa, during early mornings on gray, winter days.
"He's kind of a freak in the weightroom. He can load the bar. He's a strong dude," junior defensive end Dominic Alvis said. "He can do some great things and amaze people. He's also taken to [first-year D-line] coach [Reese] Morgan and really pays attention to detail. He's just blossomed from there."
Trinca-Pasat's body was almost there last December. The playing time wasn't. His body was banged up. His mind started to wander.
"A bunch of us sat him down and tried to give him some words of wisdom," said senior defensive end Joe Gaglione, who had similar thoughts as he struggled with injuries during his career at Iowa. " 'You're a good player, we need you and you have a good chance coming up this spring and fall. A lot of it is mental. I think he was still a young player and he was getting used to that. Now, I think he's got it."
Said Alvis, "We could all see it. We've been in those shoes. Lou wasn't going to quit. I know he wasn't. He came back. He's a tough dude."
This spring, Trinca-Pasat jumped into the first team. With a Big Ten body, he more than held his own. The first one to notice was senior guard Matt Tobin, who's lined up across Trinca-Pasat for nearly every repetition and every practice in the last three seasons.
This bout has been going on since their days in Iowa's developmental or "opportunity" practices.
"I was older and bigger then and I would be able to move him pretty well," Tobin said. "And then last spring, he took off. That kind of made us O-linemen mad because we thought of him as little, but he's still 285 pounds. It was pissing us off because we weren't blocking him. I gained a lot of respect for him and now we compete everyday. It's fun playing against him. It makes me better."
So much of what makes an Iowa D-lineman you don't see. The weights, the practice head-banging, the doubts.
"I think here they make it tough on purpose, so when you get on the field, you really appreciate what it is you've worked for," Bigach said.
If it doesn't break you, it can make you. Iowa has had nine D-lineman drafted in the Ferentz era, from Aaron Kampman in 2002 to Mike Daniels last April.
A lot of that is because Iowa D-linemen learn the hard way, the two-gap, spartan existence that had Trinca-Pasat on the ropes last December.
"When you come from high school and you're just running up field and making plays, that's the life, you know," Alvis said with a laugh. "You kind of admire other defenses where they do run up up field wreak havoc in the backfield."In our defense, you have to be technically sound. It makes you a better player. I think you're valued in the NFL because of that, because you're so technically gifted."