After turning his lone catch last season into a touchdown, UCLA fullback Nate Iese has become a more dangerous offensive weapon.
He still doesn’t touch the ball often, but whenever the 6-foot-3, 250-pound redshirt sophomore does, it’s usually worth watching. Iese has two games with multiple catches, grabbing a pair of passes in the Bruins’ season opener at Virginia and another pair in their 20-17 win against Texas more than a week ago. His first catch of the season went for 17 yards; his fourth was a three-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel.
Iese credited that latter play to how wary the Longhorns defense was of UCLA’s jumbo package — one that lines linebacker Myles Jack as a tailback. Jack only has eight carries for 21 yards this season, but when he does come it, it still sucks defenses in towards the line of scrimmage.
“They bite up on the run so much, the back of the end zone is always left open,” Iese said. “We saw that early on in the game.”
And so Iese took advantage. On his scoring catch, he initially posed as a blocker before slipping past defensive end Cedric Reed. Neuheisel placed the ball between two defenders in the end zone, allowing Iese the space to jump backward and pull it down.
But since switching from defense to offense following his redshirt season on both scout teams, Iese said the most difficult part hasn’t been catching the ball. As a senior at Sheldon High near Sacramento, he was an All-Metro tight end who had 42 receptions for 522 yards and seven touchdowns.
What he takes more pride in now is his blocking.
“I was actually more excited about the blocks that I had than the touchdown catch,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve been working on a lot lately. I struggled with it at the beginning, coming over to the offensive side of the ball. … I know I can catch the ball already, so I was more excited about the blocking.”