Beating the smelly stigma of playing 8-man football is probably comparable to slogging a dead 280-pound pig through a squealing, swine-filled, manure-soiled pen.
The only kid in America who could make that evaluation is Nathan Bazata
The country-ripped 6-foot-2, 280-pound
Howells-Dodge (Howells, Neb.)
lineman will sign a Division I scholarship to Iowa on Wednesday without ever having played a down of 11-man football.
That's sort of like entering Juilliard without music or dance training, or medical school having never cut open a frog.
But thanks to his strong farm upbringing, successful sibling examples and one of the top 8-man football programs in the state, if not the nation, Bazata has beaten the odds and the supposed dishonor of playing a less-popular game.
"We get a lot of crap for playing 8-man — that it's not real football," Bazata said. "I'm not really sure but it might be harder in some ways. I just know it kind of rubs you the wrong way when you hear 8-man isn't the real thing." See every player signed as part of Iowa's 2013 class
Bazata is no smack talker. Quite the opposite. As polite and respectful as you expect from a kid tossing 70-pound bales of hay, wrestling with large livestock and getting pinned to the living room floor by much older and stronger brothers.
"They beat on me some but I'd get it worse if I ever told on them," Bazata said with a laugh. "It definitely made me stick up for myself."
Make no mistake. Bazata idolized brothers Steven, now 26, and Michael, 24. Both were football and wrestling stars at Howells when Bazata was a student manager for the football team in the fourth grade.
Both brothers even played college football at South Dakota State (Steven) and Wayne State (Michael).
But "little" brother, who is 32-0 and the No. 1 ranked heavyweight wrestler in the state for any division, has made it to the big time – Division I football – and with a rare leap straight from the 8-man game.
"I think they're happy and proud of me," he said. "I know when they were in high school and they'd get a sack in the game I'd think to myself I hope someday I can get out and do that." Knows no different
But now he'll be getting out of Howells, a farming town of 672 located in east-central Nebraska, 80 miles from both Lincoln and Omaha.
Howells-Dodge, previously just Howells
until it decided to incorporate more students from nearby Dodge this school year, has an enrollment of 100 for grades 9-12. Bazata's senior class is 22.
Eight-man football is big in Nebraska because of the small rural towns and under 17-year head coach Mike Spiers, Howells has won nine state titles since 2000.
"Been blessed with a lot of talent and a lot of hard-working kids," Spiers said.
None more talented or hard working than Bazata, whose parents Dan and Laurie, and older sister Ashley, were all strong all-around athletes.
"Quiet, very humble, incredibly hard working," Spiers said. "He's always showing the younger kids proper technique. He always has a smile on his face. But yes, the work ethic is amazing. Working on a farm, he doesn't know any different."
Not a traditional weightlifter, the duties on his family's massive two-site, 10,000-head pig farm has led to a 385-pound bench press and he squats 470.
Those kind of quantifiable facts helped him get noticed, but college scouts rarely if ever attend 8-man games on an 80-by-40-yard field. That makes the job of Spiers and Jeff Ashby, the coach of another 8-team state power Giltner (Neb.)
, much tougher.
"We have to stick together at our level," Ashby said. "We have to find ways to get our guys exposure because we aren't going to have recruiters often come to us. These guys can't afford to take a chance and whiff."
Projections, projections, projections
Bazata will join one of Giltner's rare gems, Drew Ott, a 6-4, 245-pound freshman defensive lineman at Iowa. Ott will actually host Bazata during his official visit next month after being fierce rivals for three seasons.
Both were offered to walk-on at Nebraska, which is the normal protocol for 8-man players trying to play Division I football.
"Frankly, I can't believe either of those guys (Ott and Bazata) got past Nebraska," Ashby said.
Tom Lemming, CBS recruiting expert who has been covering the field for 30 years, said college recruiters will definitely take a chance on 8-man kids.
"But it's all about the projections," CBS sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming said. "It's height and weight and speed and production. If you're good enough, they'll find you.
"But honestly, the vast majority of schools want (8-man players) to walk on and prove themselves."
Bazata is all for proving himself. But it's nice to do it with a college scholarship secured. Once he signs on the dotted line Wednesday, it will be like pulling pigs from the pen all over again.
Or something like that.
"It's like starting at the bottom of the totem pole and working your way back up," Bazata said.