HOWELLS, Neb. — It’s been almost a year since Nathan Bazata pledged to play college football at Iowa.
On Wednesday morning, the Howells-Dodge senior officially became a Hawkeye by signing his letter of intent.
“I’m pretty excited. Like I’ve said before, growing up watching the Huskers or any Division I team, it’s just my dream to play,” Bazata said. “To actually be able to play is pretty sweet.”
Rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, Bazata was a force on both the offensive and defensive lines during his high school career. As a junior, he recorded 101 tackles, with 27 coming behind the line of scrimmage, while leading Howells to an Eight Man-2 state runner-up finish.
This past year, the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder finished with 45 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and nine sacks despite facing constant double- and triple-teams as Howells-Dodge — in its first year as a consolidated school — finished 10-1 after being upset by Bruning-Davenport/Shickley in the state quarterfinals.
Bazata — whom Howells-Dodge coach Mike Speirs called “the most dominant defensive lineman I have ever coached” — started for Class D-2 state championship teams at Howells his freshman and sophomore years. He also owns three Class D state wrestling medals, including silver medals at 285 pounds in each of the past two seasons.
He’ll take those accomplishments with him to Iowa City — along with a little advice from Speirs.
“He just kind of tells me to keep doing what I’m doing — work harder and have the same motor that I have — and he thinks all things will fall into place,” Bazata said.
Bazata, who anticipates a redshirt season this year and a chance at defensive tackle next, said he hopes he can help bring Iowa back to the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes are coming off of a 4-8 season and have had at least five losses in each of the past three seasons after defeating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl following the 2009 season. Bazata doesn’t know much about the rest of the Iowa recruiting class — ranked 52nd in the nation by Rivals — but he has an idea what the Hawkeyes will need to do to get back to the top.
“I think it’s just going to take kids who want to work hard,” he said. “I think it would be cool to be a part of that — getting back to 10-win seasons.”
The continuity on the Iowa staff — five of the Hawkeyes’ primary coaches have been with the team for at least 14 years — was also a big draw for Bazata, who had a scholarship offer from South Dakota State and received interest from Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Michigan and Minnesota.
His primary recruiter at Iowa, defensive line coach Reese Morgan, has been a part of Kirk Ferentz’s staff for 13 years.
“They’ve been solid there for 10 years. I don’t even know how many years they’ve actually been there,” Bazata said. “You see all these schools that have a head coach for two years, and then they go somewhere else. It’s pretty nice to know they’re loyal to the team.”
The fact the staff has a history of developing small-town kids into big-time players sits well with Bazata, too. Current Minnesota Vikings linebacker and Iowa alum Chad Greenway played nine-man football in South Dakota, and former Giltner star Drew Ott found the field as a freshman last year.
“For them not actually going after all those five-star recruits, but for them to actually believe in their small-town kids, that means a lot. They said they’ve had a lot of success with eight-man kids,” Bazata said. “They just seem to be having a lot of success, and that’s what kind of led me there, too.”