CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Griffin Gaeta has a slightly different idea of “fun’’ than most of us.
Gaeta has been bounced back and forth between offense and defense like a human ping-pong ball during four-plus years in the University of Northern Iowa. But while most players would characterize his meandering trek as confusing or frustrating, the former Muscatine High School standout sees it a bit differently.
“Learning the plays is the most difficult part and the technique, but it’s always fun because everyone definitely is there to help you learn,’’ Gaeta said of his frequent position changes, which have left him playing tight end in his senior season. “It’s always good to hang out with different people on the team.’’
Most recruiting services listed Gaeta as primarily a tight end prospect coming out of high school, but he said he was told by UNI coaches coming in that he might be used on either side of the ball.
As a freshman in 2012, he took a redshirt year while working primarily as a defensive lineman.
During the fall of 2013, he was moved over to play tight end on offense.
In 2014, he was moved back to defense and saw sparse playing time there that season and in 2015.
During the off-season, he underwent surgery to have a screw inserted into his wrist to repair a fracture of his scaphoid bone. While he was recovering, UNI’s coaches asked if he could move back to offense.
So that’s where Gaeta finds himself entering his final fall of college football, as a senior contending with sophomore Elias Nissen and redshirt freshman Taylor Otterstatter for playing time at tight end.
UNI coach Mark Farley said at the team's media day earlier this month that Nissen has the upper hand in the battle, but Gaeta said all three players are getting equal reps in practice.
“The three of us rotate,’’ he said, “and the freshmen (Peyton Williams and Briley Moore) get in when there are extra snaps.’’
Gaeta, who has added about 40 pounds of muscle during his college career and is now listed as 6-foot-6, 247 pounds, insists he really doesn’t have a preferred position.
He has seen action mostly on special teams in 28 career games and doesn’t have a great deal to show for it statistically. He has made three tackles with one assist. He has yet to catch a pass in a game, which he admits would really be fun.
“It’s definitely fun to maybe get a chance to catch the ball and make some plays, but I also enjoy down in the trenches blocking people,’’ he said. “That’s always fun for me.’’
Hopefully, he will get a chance to do that before collecting his degree in marketing management in December.
“Any way that I can get on the field and help the team, I’m willing to do it,’’ he said.