CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa linebacker Bryce Flater played as a prep at Class A Grundy Center High School — only 25 miles away from the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls — and was a standout two-way player for the Spartans.
Like many Class A players, Flater received only mild interest from college teams, despite rushing for over 2,000 yards his senior season.
“I had some looks (from teams) in the Missouri Valley and then I had some D-II scholarships and NAIA, but coming from a small school, I was under-recruited,” Flater said.
Flater’s break came in the 2016 River Battle Bowl — an annual exhibition game between all-star teams from Nebraska and Iowa — when he played linebacker and made the most of the opportunity, recording 10 tackles and an interception and earning defensive MVP playing against higher-level competition.
“After I played in the River Battle Bowl is when the doors actually opened up and that’s when Iowa State and Iowa wanted me to be a preferred walk-on,” Flater said. “Then UNI finally came in and then offered me a scholarship and I was like, ‘You know what, this is so close to home and this is where I’ve always wanted to end up.’ I didn’t want to play anywhere else but UNI.”
After admittedly not being as well-crafted at linebacker as he was at running back, Flater had a lot of work to do before becoming a starter.
However, after injuries began to pile up at linebacker for the Panthers last season, he got an opportunity in the second half of the regular season-finale against Missouri State. But before Flater could finish the game, he was ejected for targeting.
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“I had a problem last year of lowering the crown of my helmet. So, I’d lower my head, the facemask wasn’t up, and that’s where I’d get caught,” Flater said. “Last week against Youngstown State, there was a targeting call on me but it got overturned because I kept my face up.”
With the targeting penalties behind him and necessary adjustments made to his technique, Flater has become a key component to UNI’s defense as he leads the team with 47 tackles. The former Spartan also grabbed his first career interception two weeks ago against Idaho State.
“(Bryce has) just learned the game, and he’s kind of had to learn the game under the gun a little bit, because he wasn’t quite ready to play last year in the coverage aspect of things,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “That’s where he’s really developed his game. He’s always had a good sense of finding the ball in the run game and he’s developed himself into a (coverage) linebacker, as well.”
“What makes him different is his tenacity for the game, his passion for the game. When you put him on the football field he just has a way that he wants to find the football and he’s just got that will to find a way to the ball. I don’t know that you teach a lot of that, but (Bryce) has that.”