IOWA CITY, Iowa — Nathan Bazata’s frustration is evident when he talks more about what he can’t do this offseason rather than what he can do.
A lingering high-ankle sprain and subsequent setbacks have limited the Iowa senior defensive tackle since last October’s loss to Wisconsin. He missed three starts and hasn’t felt right in the winter or spring. His ankle remains an issue entering the summer conditioning period.
“I want to be there for my team and my position, but right now I’m not able to,” Bazata said. “I’m able to help them out mentally but not like show them through drills and that frustrates me. As long as I’m helping in some way, that’s the biggest point.
“It’s not there yet, but by August I’ll be good.”
This is a season and a time when the Hawkeyes need Bazata. The Minnesota Vikings drafted All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson in the fourth round. Faith Ekakitie, who rotated about evenly with Bazata, was the No. 1 overall pick in the CFL draft.
Their replacements right now include true sophomore Cedrick Lattimore (who played sparingly last year), redshirt sophomore Brady Reiff (a converted defensive end) and possibly junior Matt Nelson (who will play both end and tackle). Iowa needs a veteran such as Bazata to stabilize the unit and help coach the young players.
Bazata, a native of Howells, Neb., has played in 36 games at Iowa, with 24 starts. He has 81 tackles and 5 sacks the last two seasons. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year despite missing time.
“He is a guy that is a great technician,” Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan said this spring. “Obviously [Bazata] has great vertical leverage due to his height. He’s a real competitive guy. Has a lot of pride. He’s our senior right now, the senior in the room.”
“At times I felt like I learned more during spring ball than I have participating in it,” Bazata said. “I learned from different guys, like what they do, like Parker Hesse, both Nelsons [Anthony and Matt], what they do that helps them in the run game or the pass game.”
In the offseason, Bazata has tried to help Lattimore and Reiff improve their technique. Bazata has focused on honing the mental side of his position because he couldn’t work on it physically. In the interim period after the spring semester, Bazata could lift weights but wasn’t cleared for conditioning until this week.
Bazata smiled when he reflected on the joys of summer conditioning.
“Obviously I’m struggling,” he said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been on my feet, too.”