ATHENS – Tight end Isaac Nauta jokes that he likes to be a little different than the rest of his Georgia teammates.
So, what better way to set himself apart than dye his hair – platinum blond?
“That was pure impulse. I just wanted to do it,” Nauta said after practice on Wednesday. “There’s so much stress in this life you never know when my hair’s gonna go. I might as well do something with it while I can.”
His mother, Lisa Nauta, begrudgingly gave the change her blessing.
“She actually did it,” said Nauta, who joked his teammates think he looks like cartoon character Danny Phantom.
"She’s a former hair stylist,” he said. “She wasn’t happy about it at first, but she did it. She’s OK.”
On the field, standing out has been more difficult.
Six games in and Nauta hasn’t quite had the impact receiving as he did as a freshman when he caught 29 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
Entering Saturday’s game against Missouri, Nauta has only five catches for 71 yards and one score, with only two catches over Georgia’s last three games. Of course, the Bulldogs haven’t been throwing the football much lately. They haven’t had to pass.
With the running game averaging 306.25 yards over its past four contests, quarterback Jake Fromm has only averaged 14.5 passes over that same time, meaning tight ends like Nauta have had to take solace in their blocking prowess, which is also a huge part of their responsibilities.
Still, seeing Bulldog tight ends with just eight catches between them halfway through the season is a bit surprising.
“We’ve got our plays lined up that we’re ready to run, we’re just working to perfect them and keep practicing,” Nauta said. “When we run the ball like we did, you don’t have to throw it. That stuff can get put to the wayside, but keep doing it in practice and always be ready.”
Head coach Kirby Smart has been tough on the sophomore, a preseason selection to the All-SEC team.
In Georgia’s win against Mississippi State, Nauta caught a 41-yard touchdown pass. But in Georgia’s game the previous week against Samford, analyst Barrett Jones revealed that Smart was concerned about his player’s practice habits, hinting that was a reason Nauta wasn’t seeing as many opportunities catching the ball.
“Isaac continues to improve. We’ll keep working with him,” Smart said after the game against Mississippi State. “He’ll keep doing the things that he’s got to do.”
Despite fewer catches, Nauta feels he’s playing as well, if not better than he did his freshman year.
“I feel like I’ve definitely improved as a blocker. My MAs (missed assignments) and just overall improvement has been a lot better. I’ve made less mental mistakes; I’ve just been physically a lot better,” he said. “I feel I’ve been good at getting open, but really, we’re taking shots and guys are making plays. Sometimes it seems we score three plays into a drive and then we run it down the field the next drive. It’s all about opportunities and when they come your way you’ve got to make them.”
He’s learning that blocking can be a lot of fun, too.
That’s especially true when you’re running the football as effectively as the Bulldogs have. For example, last week at Vanderbilt, Georgia rolled up 423 yards on the ground.
“It’s blast, you make a pancake block, look up and you see (Nick) Chubb taking it to the house,” Nauta said. “It’s a lot of fun when you put in so much work during the week and you see it come to fruition on the field. Running the ball is a very rewarding deal because you work so hard at it, so it’s cool when it breaks your way.”
(Story by Anthony Dasher, Photo of Isaac Nauta by Radi Nabulsi)