High School 8 Man football Plays

From small town 8-man football to making big plays at

Nathan Bazata, Nate MeierBy Jesse Temple
ESPN.com
Defensive linemen Nate Meier (left) and Nathan Bazata received very few offers after playing eight-man football in high school, but it's tough to ignore them now at Iowa.

Nathan Bazata heard the slights directed his way in just about every imaginable social setting. At wrestling meets. At summer football camps. Even from folks in neighboring cities.

Everywhere he went, people suggested Bazata wasn't a "real" football player. And why? Because he lived in the town of Howells, Nebraska (population 552), where the local high school played eight-man football instead of the 11-man version due to its small number of students.

Hey, you've been playing three guys short, they would mock at some camps. Isn't it too crowded out here for you?

"That kind of made you want to prove to them something different, " Bazata said.

Perception and reality do not always align, and Bazata is among a trio of defensive linemen for the Iowa Hawkeyes who are confirming that truism in each game. Bazata, Drew Ott and Nate Meier each played eight-man football in high school. They also represent three of Iowa's four defensive line starters now, with Bazata at tackle and Ott and Meier playing defensive end for a team off to a 3-0 start with a chance for its first undefeated nonconference season since 2009.

"I think that's probably pretty rare, especially at one position, " Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You couldn't do that on purpose, quite frankly. I don't know how it happened, but we're certainly glad that it did. All three guys have done a really good job."

The misconceptions regarding eight-man football are numerous, said Bazata's high school coach, Mike Speirs, who has guided the consolidated Howells-Dodge team for the past 20 years. People incorrectly believe it's like arena football, where games are wide open, points pile up and similarities to 11-man football are minimal. It's part of the reason why, after Bazata was nominated for the 2012 Gatorade Football Player of the Year award in Nebraska one year after Ott won the honor at Giltner High, it created a tremendous uproar.

"People thought that was just a horrible thing for two small-school eight-man kids to get named to that honor, " Speirs said. "You hear a lot of the things. [But] talent is talent. It doesn't matter the size of the school. You're going to have talented kids all over."

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