IOWA CITY — Teammates wish Noah Fant nothing but the best, but the Iowa football team is ready to move on as the standout tight end pursues his own NFL possibilities.
“Next man in, and we do have good depth in the tight end room,’’ sophomore T.J. Hockenson said. “Noah did what he felt he needed to do and that’s great, we wish him well, but our energies have to be focused on the guys who are here.’’
That collection of talent no longer includes Fant.
Two days after earning first-team all-Big Ten recognition from conference coaches, the junior announced Friday he planned to forego his final year of eligibility and had reached the decision to leave the Hawkeyes before the team began preparations for the Outback Bowl.
The decision to leave before the bowl game left teammates with mixed feelings.
“Noah’s a great guy and I feel like he’s going to go on and have a great career in the NFL,’’ quarterback Nate Stanley sad. “The timing, it’s a little disappointing because he is such a big part of our offense. It’s not just the balls he catches. It’s what he does that allows other people to get open.’’
Teammates say that Fant, projected as a potential first-round draft pick, made a decision he felt was the best one he could make and none blamed him for becoming the first Hawkeye to forego playing a bowl game.
“You have such a limited window to make it all happen,’’ senior kicker Miguel Recinos said.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said he understands as well, even if it is previously uncharted territory for the Iowa program.
“Everybody’s got a decision to make about how they want to handle their future, their course of action. Ultimately, you want guys on the bus and on the sideline that are fully invested in it,’’ Ferentz said.
“What we do is so hard and so competitive that if you’re not fully into it, it’s not good for anybody. I certainly respect Noah’s decision. I think it’s something he and his family felt was best for him and his interests.’’
Ferentz called Fant’s pre-bowl decision “a sign of the times,’’ and while he doesn’t expect the Iowa program to be impacted to the degree that some programs endure, he understands the reasoning.
The Iowa coach met last week with all Hawkeye underclassmen who might be considering a similar move, a group that includes Hockenson, Stanley and defensive back Amani Hooker.
He presented each with an informational packet the NFL puts together, detailing the process that players who seek input from the NFL Draft Advisory Board must go through.
“I shared it with the players and their parents,’’ Ferentz said. “It’s an educational process for all to go through and gather good information, reliable information from people that really know the draft and can project it.’’
Hooker and Stanley both said they view the process as an opportunity to gain feedback.
“Just to let you know where you’re at from the eyes of others,’’ Hooker said.
Stanley, who expects to return next season, said the chance to get a grade from the advisory board is an opportunity that he feels like he needs to take.
“I have a lot to learn and this is part of that process,’’ Stanley said. “I see it as a chance to learn where I’m at and what I need to think about moving into next year. I’m not really thinking a lot about that now. That’s for after the season. We’ve got a game to get ready for.’’
With nearly a month to prepare for Mississippi State and a New Year’s Day bowl game, Iowa has time to adjust to Fant’s early departure.
Hockenson, a sophomore who plans to wait until after the bowl game to make his own decision about possibly entering the 2019 NFL Draft, sees that as an advantage.
“We have some time to work through things,’’ Hockenson said. “The receivers are coming along and we have guys in the tight end room who are capable of doing good things.’’
While Shaun Beyer is expected to miss the Outback Bowl with an injury, Nate Wieting and Drew Cook took late-season snaps at tight end for Iowa in a reserve role.
They will likely see additional practice reps behind Hockenson as the Hawkeyes work to grow depth at tight end during bowl practices.
“It’s a good chance for other guys to step up,’’ Stanley said.