BRYNN ANDERSON/THE WORLD-HERALD
Football is Nathan Bazata’s favorite sport. The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder from Howells-Dodge made the All-Nebraska team, earned a scholarship to play for Iowa and was defensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl.
By Stu Pospisil / The World-Herald
athan Bazata was spurred on this year by a new pair of driving forces. He already had one pair — older brothers Michael and Steven. He was the little brother who was on the sideline as a student manager when they were playing football.
“You’d see how hard they’d work, and after games, people would come up and ask, ‘Did you see your brother and how many tackles he made?’ ” Nathan said. “I wished one day that could be me.”
2012: Mike Shoff, Cambridge
2011: Ted Lampkin, Omaha Central
2010: Deverell Biggs, Omaha Central
2009: Ron Coleman, Omaha North
2008: John Levorson, Crete
2007: Niles Paul, Omaha North
2006: Ian Dike, Lincoln Southwest
2005: Robert Rands, Bellevue East
2004: Danny Woodhead, North Platte
2003: Andy Birkel, Lincoln Southeast
2002: Shawn Swan, Ralston
2001: Alex Gordon, Lincoln Southeast
2000: Richard Ross, Lincoln High
1999: Trevor Johnson, Lincoln Northeast
1998: Aaron Golliday, York
1997: Matt Davison, Tecumseh
1996: John Gibson, Papillion-La Vista
1995: Ahman Green, Omaha Central
1994: Ted Butler, Lincoln Southeast
1993: Scott Frost, Wood River
1992: Erick Strickland, Bellevue West
1991: Clester Johnson, Bellevue West
1990: Cory Schlesinger, Columbus
1989: Scott Bream, Millard South
1988: Kevin Ramaekers, Norfolk Catholic
1987: Tom Haase, Aurora
1986: Leodis Flowers, Omaha Central
1985: Gerry Gdowski, Fremont
1984: John Kroeker, Henderson
1983: Jeff Taylor, Omaha Westside
1982: Larry Station, Omaha Central
1981: Marty Kobza, Schuyler
1980: Kevin Penner, Aurora
1979: John Sherlock, Omaha South
1978: Jim Hartung, Omaha South
1977: Mike McGee, Omaha North
1976: Tim Wurth, Omaha Burke
1975: Doug Phelps, Hastings
1974: Pat Hodges, Lexington
1973: Bob Siegel, Fairbury
1972: Bob Martin, David City
1971: Tom Kropp, Aurora
1970: Maurice Damkroger, Lincoln Northeast
1969: Johnny Rodgers, Omaha Tech
1968: Max Linder, Plattsmouth
1967: Tom Heller, Kearney
1966: Randy Reeves, Omaha Benson
1965: Dick Davis, Omaha North
1964: John Sanders, Grand Island
1963: Fred Hare, Omaha Tech
1962: David Lebsack, Lincoln Northeast
1961: Kent McCloughan, Broken Bow
1960: Bob Hohn, Beatrice
1959: Bob Eickholt, Omaha Holy Name
1958: Monte Kiffin, Lexington
1957: Mike Iseman, Fremont
1956: Duane Buchtel, Clay Center
1955: Tom Osborne, Hastings
1954: Richard Knaub, Scottsbluff
1953: Don Erway, Lincoln High
1952: John Neff, Fremont
1951: “Hoppy” McCue, Arapahoe
He’s fulfilled those wishes by landing a football scholarship to Iowa, making the All-Nebraska football team and, for good measure, being named defensive MVP of last weekend’s Shrine Bowl. But to achieve the other points on a triple-crown season that ends with The World-Herald’s Nebraska Boys Athlete of the Year award, the recent Howells-Dodge graduate gained one push from competition and another from emotion.
After two runner-up finishes at the state wrestling meet, Bazata joined his brothers as a state champion. In a track season that he dedicated to a coach with health issues, Bazata was the all-class gold medalist in the shot put.
“Nathan has been around our program for a long time, close to 10 years,” Howells-Dodge football coach Mike Speirs said. “I watched him grow up, and he’s still the same kid he was when he was a student manager.”
Bazata is the newspaper’s first athlete of the year from the schools that merged prior to the 2012-13 school year. He follows Cambridge’s Mike Shoff, the wrestler who beat him in those state wrestling finals before moving on to play football for South Dakota State.
Other athlete of the year finalists this year were seniors Tra-Deon Hollins of Omaha Central, Luke McNitt of Kearney, Nate Rogers of South Sioux City and Josh Banderas of Lincoln Southwest and junior Kenzo Cotton of Papillion-La Vista.
REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD
Bazata, back to the camera, was fueled by losses to Cambridge’s Mike Shoff in the 2011 and 2012 state wrestling finals. As a senior, Bazata went 43-0 and won the 285-pound Class D title.
Football is Bazata’s best sport and the one he prefers, but it also dealt him the most disappointment this past season. The Jaguars won their first 10 games before a rally came up short in a 25-18 Eight Man-1 quarterfinal home loss to Bruning-Davenport/Shickley.
“The first year of being Howells-Dodge, we did a lot of good things. But I’d like to do football season all over again,” Bazata said. “The last few games, we expected to win no matter what, and that was a horrible attitude to have. You tried talking to and motivating other people, and it never worked.”
Speirs has said Bazata, 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, is the best defensive lineman from Howells. “He always had that D-line build to him,” Speirs said.
Both brothers played defensive line for Howells, then went on to play college football — Michael at Wayne State, Steven at South Dakota State.
The coach remembers when Steven Bazata was at South Dakota State and the Jackrabbits went to Iowa State for a game.
“Nathan probably was in sixth or seventh grade. He came back from there and he was excited about it,” Speirs said. “I told him someday he could play at an Iowa State. You could see he had a lot of ability.
“He’s worked hard to be the best he can be. You know you’re getting an honest effort out of him.”
Bazata’s wrestling title completed a 43-0 season and ended his career with a 158-11 record. Besides the two finals losses to Shoff, he was fourth at 215 pounds as a freshman.
“Guess the third time’s a charm,” he said. “The losses were heartbreaking. Sophomore year, the final wasn’t even close. I worked so hard junior year to beat him and I could have. It was a 4-3 match, one of those that could have gone either way.”
“Senior year, I worked hard to get one of those gold medals.”
KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALD
Bazata was the 2013 all-class gold medalist in the shot put.
More gold medals came in the shot put ring, where he was the only athlete in any class to break 60 feet this season.
His inspiration was his throws coach, George Blum, who was treated for a ruptured brain aneurysm that led to a stroke, then was diagnosed with a second, unruptured aneurysm that required additional surgery.
“I definitely wanted to be the best because of my coach, for what he had to go through,” Bazata said. “When we started the season and he started back coaching, I said everything I do I wanted to do for him. Get the (Class C) gold and the all-class gold.”
Although track and field may rank down Bazata’s list of favorite sports, Blum said the athlete always had enthusiasm for it.
“He’s a pretty special kid,” Blum said. “He never quit throwing even when it was easy enough to quit for the day.”
He said Bazata broke the 60-foot barrier because of his work with throws coach Doug Shelton at Pierce.
“He worked on the spin,” Blum said. “Nathan always had the strength, but it took a lot of the technique from Doug that helped him out.”
“He had more of the frame for the shot put than discus. He had the softest feet in the ring I’ve ever seen.”
Speirs said Bazata leaves a legacy for the new Jaguars program that includes humility.
“Despite all his success and accolades, he never held that over anybody’s head,” the football coach said. “He’s the same person he was as that fourth-grader who was a student manager.”
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