Hlas: Iowa's Noah Fant is Player of the People

Hawkeye tight end brings fans into his celebrations

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IOWA CITY — Noah Fant’s touchdowns are your touchdowns.

The Iowa sophomore tight end is very good, and getting better all the time. But that’s not why he’s won over a lot of Hawkeye hearts. OK, that’s a big reason.

A tight connection between player and fan has come from Fant’s instincts to take the party immediately to Hawkeye fans after his scoring catches, pumping their happiness to an even higher level.

“I wouldn’t say I consciously try to,” Fant said Tuesday. “There’s a fine line in celebrations and getting fans involved. But those 70,000 people in Kinnick don’t have to come to the games. They come and support us every week, and it’s just exciting when they show us that much appreciation and they show us that support. They deserve to have a good time and be a part of the celebrating.”

Wearing his emotion on his sleeve, Fant said, is “not anything that’s planned or anything like that. It’s just out of pure excitement and joy. And at times, out of pure hurt, like the Northwestern game.”

The best players want to get right back on the field after a tough moment or game. Fant dropped a fourth-down pass in overtime at Northwestern on Oct. 21 that ended Iowa’s chance of winning. He caught a 45-yard touchdown throw from Nate Stanley at home the next week against Minnesota.

Like all his Hawkeye teammates, Fant gave the fans a lot to love last Saturday in Iowa’s 55-24 thumping of Ohio State. He had two TD catches, both beauties.

One was a second-quarter, 25-yard sideline route in which he simply beat his defender and reeled in a perfect pass from Nate Stanley before just before he ran out of the end zone. His momentum took him through some cheerleaders and marching band members and up into a stadium tunnel where he slipped on cement.

But he didn’t fall. There was no falling that day.

Less than three minutes later, Fant made a twisting, sliding catch of a 3-yard Stanley pass. He collared and cradled the ball just before it grazed the ground in the end zone. He did a 180-degree turn on his back, popped to his feet, and gave his own touchdown signal as he moved toward the stands.

It was showy, but not showboat. It was genuine joy, what you want to see from players. It shows this means the world to them.

“I love playing football and I love just getting fans into it,” said Fant. “After a big play, I think people should just celebrate no matter if it’s me or if it’s T.J. (Hockenson) or it’s Nate, Akrum (Wadley), anybody.”

Omaha’s Fant has seven touchdown catches, the most by a Hawkeye since 2012. During a Tuesday interview, he was informed he shares the national lead for TD catches by tight ends with seven. Boise State’s Jake Roh matches him. The seven is an Iowa single-season record for a tight end.

You know who has come before him here at that position. Jonathan Hayes, Marv Cook, Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki, Brandon Myers, C.J. Fiedorowicz, George Kittle. NFL players, one and all, and that’s just a partial list.

Fant and redshirt freshman Hockenson have already joined that list when it comes to being difference-makers for the Hawkeyes.

“Before I came here I wasn’t totally aware of all that stuff,” Fant said. “They obviously used it in recruiting. But you don’t really get a true measure of it until you get here and on the walls and stuff there are all those different records. We’ve had a long list of good tight ends to come through here.

“It’s sure impressive, and that’s what we’re hoping to get toward.”

You have a sophomore quarterback. You have two freshmen starting at offensive tackle. You have frosh running backs and wide receivers who could be something. You have Hockenson. You have Fant.

“I’m not looking too much into the future,” Fant said, “Obviously, the future looks bright. If we can keep improving, it’d be something pretty special. But obviously, we’re focused on improving as much as we can right now.”

But what a future this man has. Talent, size, speed, desire. There will be more end zone celebrations he will invite you to join.

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