IOWA CITY — Drew Ott's football transition, from eight-man to the Big Ten, came quickly last fall.
“We told him all along, 'Drew, we really want to redshirt you, but we're in a situation where we're asking you to play,'?” Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan said. “And he said, 'Coach, I want to play.'”
That was in the eighth game of the season against Northwestern, after an injury to senior defensive lineman Joe Gaglione left the Hawkeyes, already depleted by injuries along the line, with practically no choice.
“I was ready to play,” Ott said Thursday during Iowa's media day. “I'd been practicing for three months, so I was ready to see what the experience was like. It was a good time.”
Iowa hopes the experience Ott gained in the final five games of last season will benefit him more than sitting out all of last year and coming back with four years of eligibility rather than three.
And the former All-Nebraska and World-Herald Super Six standout from Trumbull, Neb., who starred at Giltner, has entered fall camp for the Hawkeyes listed as the co-No. 1 at right defensive end.
Last year gave him a head start to the inside track.
“I was really nervous coming in,” Ott said, recalling the start of fall camp last year. “I figured guys would dominate and crush me. I was pretty small. But I guess I kind of held my own.”
It's hard to fathom that Ott was able to step in against the likes of Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska playing defensive end at 6-foot 4 and just 240 pounds, let alone that he did so only a year after playing against the likes of Lawrence-Nelson, Silver Lake and Exeter-Milligan.
Once on the field, he made three tackles, one of them unassisted, and broke up a pass. He played about 50 to 60 snaps, he said, and played extensively against Indiana.
“I got to see myself on (TV),” Ott said. “That was kind of nice.”
He also got an idea of what to expect. He's since spent plenty of time with strength coach Chris Doyle in the offseason. He's checking in at 265 pounds these days.
“This camp is a lot better,” Ott said. “My size is up. My conditioning is better. Being with Doyle for a year, I've developed a lot of strength. I can hold my own, maybe make some plays this year.”
That Ott had a chance to contribute at Iowa was no surprise, of course. He didn't get a scholarship offer from Nebraska, which had a small recruiting class in 2012, but attracted plenty of interest elsewhere.
Iowa felt strongly that it had found itself a player in Ott. The timing of his arrival, though, might have been a bit ahead of schedule.
“(From) eight-man football at Giltner, and he was able to come in and show that he belongs here,” Morgan said. “We knew about him as a person, and we felt so good about him. But you always worry … here's a guy coming in from a smaller program. But his high school program is outstanding.”
When Ott needs any help, he can turn to his training camp roommate, Dominic Alvis, a senior and the returning starter at left defensive end opposite Ott. Alvis is another small-town product, having starred for the 11-man program at Logan-Magnolia in western Iowa.
“We do have a lot in common,” Ott said. “Coming from small towns, I think we were both raised the same way.
“I look up to him a lot. This is his fifth year, and I've only been around for a year. He has a lot more knowledge about everything. If I'm struggling with anything he helps me out.”
Before long, Alvis said, Ott won't need too much more assistance.
“I'm really impressed with his physical grasp and his mental grasp of the game at such a young age,” Alvis said. “He's going to do great things with his career.”
Brandon Scherff, Iowa's starting offensive left tackle, primarily has matched up with Alvis in practice, with Ott lining up on the other side of the line. But word has traveled.
“He's going to be pretty good,” Scherff said of Ott, smiling knowingly.
Currently Ott is listed sharing first-team duties with Mike Hardy, a fourth-year junior. Redshirt freshman Faith Ekakitie is listed behind them.
“I think about (winning the starting job) all the time,” Ott said. “It's up in the air. There's a lot of competition.”
Now that he's added weight and strength, Ott has come close to completing the package of tools he needs to compete.
“He is a tough, hard-nosed guy,” Morgan said. “Very intelligent. He works hard at his craft, and he's got a lot of mental toughness.”