Eye of the tiger | NevadaAppeal.com

Eye of the tiger

Steve Puterski
sputerski@lahontanvalleynews.com

Orange and black is the new Nathan Heck.

Even with a lifetime of loathing a rival's color scheme, the newfound pattern is one he will grow to love and quickly.

The Fallon senior standout accepted an athletic scholarship and signed his National Letter of Intent on Tuesday to compete in pole vaulting at Idaho State University of the Big Sky Conference.

The newly minted Bengals recruit opted to ink his letter with the Division I school after a quick recruiting process, although a last minute suitor came calling.

Heck gathered with his family, friends and several coaches at his home Tuesday in a small ceremony celebrating his new beginning.

"We are really proud of him," said his mother, Angie Heck. "I know he's worked really hard for it. He always works really hard for whatever he does."

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His new beginning also makes Heck the only current NCAA DI athlete from Fallon.

He follows in the footsteps of recent fellow DI stars such as Aarik Wilson, Josh Mauga, Jennifer Hucke, Callie Black, Scott Smith, Monica Meihack, Sara Parsons and Harvey Dahl.

"It's kind of something special and exciting," Heck said of joining the exclusive list.

Despite his success on the track, Heck's monster season on the football field — he was named the Northern DI-A Most Valuable Player — for the Greenwave also started to draw limited interest, although Heck said he was never contact by any school.

Nevertheless, the decision between small-time football or big-time track was clear.

Road to Idaho

Heck's path to Pocatello came on the heels of a summer slump, an anomaly for the star athlete. After the 2014 Nevada state track meet, where he placed second in the pole vault in Division I-A, Heck went on a tour of sorts.

He competed in a wildy popular Clovis Street Vault in California where he only recorded one height at 12 feet. It was well below his personal best of 15 feet, which is also tied for the school record at Fallon.

He then went to the Junior Olympic meet in Reno, where he reached 12-6. But Heck came up big when he needed it most.

On the advice of Fallon assistant track coach Bert Serrano, Heck attended a summer camp at ISU. There, he narrowly missed 16 feet but left coach Dave Nielsen impressed.

"He's just a talented athlete and ran really well," Nielson said. "He was very receptive and interested in the vault. And I was also pretty impressed in his football clips. He's a whale of an athlete."

He completed numerous questionnaires and soon thereafter, Heck received a call from Nielsen, who began recruiting the Fallon stud to vault for the Bengals.

"He (Nielsen) was the first person to call me," Heck said.

"I think going to the camp was huge," Steve Heck added. "It's one thing to see a kid on video, but to actually get to coach him at a camp you can see what he is like. We made a point to see him after the camp."

Nielsen's resume is hard to ignore, especially for a senior recruit who specializes in the pole vault. Nielsen was named the 2000 USA Track and Field Nike Elite Coach of the Year and as a former pole vaulter at Iowa, he was a Big Ten champion, an All-American and competed at the 1976 Olympic Trials.

In addition, he coached Stacy Draglia, a former Olympic champion and world record holder.

"He's as good as anyone I could find," Heck said of Nielsen. "Him being a good coach made me want to go there. He said he liked my personality … and how I'm athletic."

Nielsen's current roster, meanwhile, consists of seven men's and eight women's pole vaulters, the most of any event, according to the school's website.

Heck also met former Carson High School standout and former ISU pole vaulter Mike Arnold, who won the 2010 Big Sky conference pole vault title and was later an All-American, and former Damonte Ranch standout and current ISU junior Connor Pate, another vaulter for the Bengals.

As fate would have it, Pate vaulted alongside one of Nathan Heck's older brothers, Charlie.

On his official visit to Idaho State, Heck said he felt apart of the team instantly.

"I really like the people up there," he added. "I felt like I already had friends."

Nielsen, meanwhile, said he is impressed with Heck's overall athletic ability. Although Heck's primary focus will be pole vaulting, Nielsen said his new recruit will compete in other events as a way to prevent burnout.

"I can also look forward for him to do other events, and I think that will be good for him," he added. "I would certainly hope that he earns All American status and I think he has the talent to do that."

Holding out

After the ISU camp, Heck began visiting and speaking with several programs. He took an official visit to the University of Montana and also spoke with Utah Valley University.

Montana, though, already signed a number of vaulters leaving no money or roster spot for Heck.

"They just recruited three pole vaulters last year," Steve Heck said of Montana.

However, the largest school of the bunch came calling late in the game. Heck spoke with the University of Washington, a Pac-12 program, but the Huskies coaching staff was not completely on board.

Heck was told he must clear 16 feet during his senior season for UW to consider him. The bait was set, but Heck opted for the sure thing and the 80 percent scholarship Nielsen offered.

Another issue with the Washington "offer" was the possibility of injury, which would potentially eliminate Heck from the Huskies radar and leave his status with ISU in jeopardy. The chance of vaulting with Puget Sound as a backdrop was tempting, but Heck felt at home in Pocatello.

It is also why Heck opted to forgo his senior season in wrestling. He injured his ankle last year during wrestling and was not fully healthy until several weeks into the track season.

"It was really cool to get that call," he said of Washington. "They said I'd have to wait for them and it's an expensive school. As soon as I got this offer (from ISU), I kind of knew they (Washington) were out of the picture."

Family tradition

Pole vault has been apart of the Heck family since their oldest son, Greg, took up the sport in the spring of 2005. Steve Heck said his oldest opted for the sport by random chance.

Since then, Steve and Angie Heck's three other children — Charlie, Sam and Nathan — all have been vaulters in addition to other events.

Steve Heck, meanwhile, still holds the school record in the 100- and 200-meter races.

His youngest son, though, has firmly taken the torch as the family matriarch on the track.

His goal is smash the school record, reach 16 feet and win the state title. Last year's heartbreaking effort came up short in a jump-off for his second straight second-place finish at the state meet.

"My goal is to get up to 15, 15-6 before the season starts," he added. "Win a state championship."

While the athletic goals are the cherry on top of a fantastic prep career, Steve Heck said the scholarship and opportunity to receive an education is what matters most.

Nathan Heck said he plans on studying kinesiology, although he "has no idea" about any career.

"Anytime you go for a sport it's a ticket for an education," Steve Heck added. "I hope he does great things in the pole vault, but years from now when he's done, hopefully he has that degree."

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