Iowa Football

Noah Fant's plan is, well, it's going pretty good

The junior tight end added some armor in the offseason, if a 42-inch vertical jump counts as armor

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) pulls ahead of Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Chris Jones (8) as he runs for a touchdown during the second half of a game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska on Friday, November 24, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) pulls ahead of Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Chris Jones (8) as he runs for a touchdown during the second half of a game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska on Friday, November 24, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Noah Fant cruised down the steps for interviews Tuesday. He wore a tight black T-shirt with sunglasses tucked into the collar. He had some good-sized diamond earrings.

Fant is flying at a different altitude right now.

He’s the Hawkeye on the cover of the Phil Steele preview magazine. He’s the Iowa tight end who led the nation for tight ends in 2017 with 16.47 yards per catch. He tied for the nation’s lead among tight ends with 11 touchdown receptions last season.

You can call it a “hype train.” This is June, this is when hype trains tend to want to chug out of the station. With Fant, a junior, that seems a little shortsighted. He caught 30 passes for 494 yards last season.

If you’ve done it, it’s not a hype train. Maybe it’s progression?

“He’s breaking all the conditioning records,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “He’s got three and he’ll probably get the fourth one whenever he gets a chance to run a 40. In the weight room, he’ll probably break a lot of those records for tight ends, too.

“He’s got a pretty unique skill set and he’s continuing to build on the mental aspect of the game. He’s got a great attitude.”

Fant literally is going at a different altitude.

It was late testing in the spring. Everyone tested their vertical jumps around the same time. The room was bustling and then one of the coaches said, “42.”

“When you hear a coach say 42, that’s ...” Stanley said. “Your jaw just kind of drops a little bit. It’s pretty special to be able to do that.”

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A 42-inch vertical is elite territory, like among the all-time best at the NFL combine.

“It was a supercool experience, people were shocked,” Fant said. “I obviously want to beat that again.”

A question about dunking a basketball was the follow-up. And why wouldn’t it be? You want to know what a 6-5, 214-pound athlete can do to a rim and don’t pretend you don’t.

“I was more of a power dunker,” said Fant, who last played competitive hoops as a prep at Omaha (Neb.) South High School. “I did bring down a hydraulic hoop, so that was cool. I wasn’t a flashy dunker, windmill and all of that. I was more of a ‘break the backboard’ kind of guy.’”

Jumps and dunks. This is June, so the next direction for Tuesday’s conversation with Fant was, of course, going to the NFL.

It’s June. There’s a whole season of football in front of Fant. Let’s just skip that and talk NFL, because that question is going to get you some keen insight. (It’s not and it rarely does.)

In June. From a player who sees the wall of a season in front of him, a player who’s climbed that wall and who knows what he’s going to need to do in the coming months to be able to once again clear his leg over the top of the obstacle and slide down the other side.

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“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.

Fant is a junior. The NFL has already built the conveyor belt that reaches into Iowa City and plucks out underclassmen for the draft. Just last season, cornerback Josh Jackson and offensive lineman James Daniels took the early plunge.

Realistically, it’s totally realistic for Fant. But right now in June, it slots solidly into “possibility.”

Fant gets that, and his brain is locked into the now. Maybe he’s on third base. Maybe second. However you look at it, it’s not how Fant sees it.

He sees a season and the work. And maybe offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is helping.

Fant talked about playing for Ferentz. Iowa’s 35-year-old offensive coordinator had his duties changed during the offseason. Instead of calling the plays and coaching running backs, Ferentz switched RBs for tight ends and fullbacks. It’s intriguing. Ferentz coached tight ends at New England. A lot of the Iowa staff just visited New England.

Maybe it works this way and maybe it doesn’t, but Ferentz came up as an offensive lineman and offensive line coach. Maybe that mentality rubs off a little on the skill players under his watch.

“He constantly tells me to keep working at it,” Fant said. “He says that to T.J. (Hockenson), Nate Wieting and the guys like that. Having a coach like that, I wouldn’t classify it as ‘never being satisfied,’ but it’s along those lines. You’re never going to be perfect at what you’re doing. You’re always going to have stuff to improve on.

“Honestly, that’s the kind of coach you want because that’s how you become great.”

You can’t look, act and sound as cool as Noah Fant if you don’t have a plan.

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Of course, Fant is from Omaha. And so why not Nebraska? Well, Fant had a plan and what Iowa does with tight ends intrigued him.

Fant isn’t the type to wave a finger and say ‘I told you so.’ OK, maybe he is. He did, after all, “row the boat” in the end zone after scoring against Minnesota and “row the boat” philosopher P.J. Fleck. That’s part of why you love him. He does have some attitude.

In regard to Nebraska, however, it’s not personal. The Huskers offered, but the plan was Iowa.

“When it comes down to it, I saw this as the best fit for me,” Fant said. “It’s fit pretty well for me. People understand that. I have no hard feelings toward Nebraska. They’re a great program, but this was the best fit for me as a person and a player.”

The plan now includes a 42-inch vertical, so it’s moving right along.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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