It’s a gift and a curse.

You can’t teach size — and Nate Wozniak has been blessed with a ton of it. At 6-foot-10 and 275 pounds, he’s among the tallest football players on Earth.

The Center Grove grad, who is now a junior tight end at the University of Minnesota, would rather be known as one of the best.

“At some point,” he said of his height, “I don’t want people to just think that about me. I want them to think, ‘Wow, this guy is that size — and he’s a freaking player.”

Story continues below gallery

Bit by bit, Wozniak is on his way toward accomplishing that goal.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2013, the Greenwood native saw his first action a year later, appearing in five games as a special teams player.

When Maxx Williams departed early for the NFL Draft, it created an opening in the Golden Gophers’ offense for Wozniak, who played in all 13 games and made 12 starts. He made eight catches for 75 yards, but his primary role was that of a blocker. Classmate Brandon Lingen was the pass-catching tight end, hauling in 33 footballs.

Lingen, though, missed the first game of 2016 after offseason shoulder surgery, then suffered a broken clavicle last weekend against Indiana State that will keep him on the shelf for another month.

That has put more pressure on Wozniak to become more than just a blocker this season — and so far, he’s delivering.

In a season-opening victory against Oregon State, Wozniak caught three passes for 33 yards. He added a 26-yard reception against Indiana State, and after just two games, he’s already halfway toward surpassing last year’s production as a receiver.

That, Wozniak said, has been as much a product of determination as anything else.

“I think it’s definitely something I’ve gotten better at,” he said of his pass-catching talents. “I feel like I’ve always had the tools to be a pretty good blocker. I’ve had the size and ability and want-to to be able to be solid blocking-wise, but receiving-wise is definitely something I’ve had to work on since I’ve been here.”

Being able to work alongside talented receiving tight ends such as Williams and Lingen has sped up the process — and Minnesota’s tight ends coach, Rob Reeves, likes what he sees.

Reeves noted that Wozniak has added nearly 40 pounds of muscle since his arrival and that the former Trojan has simultaneously managed to improve his speed and agility.

“With his size, he’s developed tremendously as an athlete,” Reeves stated. “He’s worked hard to become a better receiving tight end, catching the football and making plays in space.

“He’s on his way to being a really good tight end, and one of the best in the country as long as he continues to play the way he is and continues to get better.”

Most young men with Wozniak’s size, particularly growing up in the state of Indiana, would gravitate toward basketball. But in this case, it just wasn’t to be.

Though Wozniak did play basketball at Center Grove through his junior year, football has always been his first love.

“Basketball was something that I felt was just natural for me, being the taller guy, to go out and do,” he said, “but football was definitely where my heart was at the whole time, just doing out and wanting to hit people more than going around and shooting hoops.

“It’s kind of weird for and Indiana guy to say that, but that’s just the way I was.”

So instead of chasing NBA dreams, Wozniak said he hopes that he can continue developing to the point where the NFL is a realistic option. Between Williams, MarQueis Gray and Ben Utecht, Minnesota has a strong recent history of sending tight ends to the NFL, and Wozniak believes he could be next if he continues along his current path.

If it’s not, he’ll almost certainly have other options. Wozniak plans to graduate in May with a degree in agricultural and food business management, and he plans to begin work on a graduate degree next year, when he is expected to return as a fifth-year senior.

Eventually, Wozniak said, he’d like to potentially be able to start his own business, though he’ll likely start off in a sales or management position once he’s done playing football.

For now, though, the game is his dream — and he’s enjoying the opportunity to get the ball in his hands a bit more often this season.

“It’s definitely a little more fun,” Wozniak said. “I’m always trying to expand my role and just keep developing myself as a player. That’s really what it’s all about for me.”

At a glance

A look at Nate Wozniak’s career at the University of Minnesota:

Year;Games;Catches;Yards

2013;0;0;0*

2014;5;0;0

2015;13;8;75

2016;2;4;59

* — redshirted; will be eligible to play as a fifth-year senior in 2017

SHARE
Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.