Each morning at 7 a.m., Nate Wieting wakes up, walks downstairs and goes into his garage.
An organized mess awaits him as he opens the door. A couch, stacks of hunting gear, two mopeds, coolers and some oil cans are spread across the concrete floor inside his Iowa City home. Wieting walks around the clutter and takes a seat on the black workout bench neatly set up on the right end of the two-car garage. Across from the bench are a pile of dumbbells and iron weights.
The garage workout room has become Wieting's only space available for weightlifting. It's also one reason why Wieting, a former Iowa tight end, is prepared to arrive in Cleveland for his first practice with the Browns whenever NFL players make their return to team facilities.
Wieting signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent immediately after the 2020 NFL draft and has used the workout space to stay in shape each morning before he dives into virtual meetings with Browns coaches. It's one example of how Wieting ensured the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled his Pro Day at Iowa, wouldn't derail his NFL dreams.
"It's actually grown a little bit," said Wieting, who's added a few other pieces of equipment to the garage over the last month. "I use it every single day, and I'm just extremely grateful for it."
Wieting pieced together the weight room in March a few days after he received the news: His last opportunity to impress scouts as a participant in the Pro Day was gone. He hoped to use the workout as a springboard into potentially sliding into the draft as a late-round selection after not receiving an invite to the scouting combine.
Then, that last opportunity vanished.
"There's guys out there who put it on tape and show what they can do, and then there's also guys who weren't able to," Wieting said. "I was a part of that second group. It's kind of scary. You're almost facing your football death."
Check out photos of the Browns 2020 UDFA class
He was still optimistic that, somehow, interest would pick up in the weeks leading up the draft, but his hopes were waning. As he talked to his agent and family, he wondered if he had played his final football game.
So did Brian Wieting, Nate's dad. He wanted to know how his son was staying in shape in the days after the Pro Day cancellation, so he gave him a call.
"What are you doing to workout?" Brian asked Wieting over the phone.
"I have a few 10-pound dummbbells and a couple elastic bands. That's it," Wieting replied.
"Well, how can we get Amazon to deliver 800 pounds of weights?" his dad asked.
Unsurprisingly, Amazon could not deliver nearly a half ton of weights to Wieting's doorsteps, but his dad had another idea. He contacted the athletic department at Rockford Lutheran High School — Nate's old high school in his hometown, Rockford, Illinois — and organized a way to pick up some of the unused equipment from the school's gym room.
The school was closed, but Brian, a former basketball coach for Rockford, had the keys inside. He walked up to the second floor, clicked on the lights and began the grueling process of carrying down 90-pound dumbbells, a workout bench and some other equipment to the back of his Ford pickup truck.
"I didn't realize how heavy those were," Brian said. "I always joke to Nate that I now have a longer right arm. That truck was loaded."
His work wasn't finished. The bench press seat didn't come with a rack, so Brian scoped out some wood at a local Home Depot and added that to his truck, too. He was going to build one himself after he made the nearly three-hour trek across the plains and over the state line to Iowa City.
A few hours after he arrived, the workout room was set.
"There's quite a bit down there," Wieting said. "My roommates and I are in the process of moving out over the next couple months. We make pretty good use of the room that we have, so it worked."
The garage helped Wieting stay in shape in the weeks leading up the draft, but he didn't know if it'd pay off until Day 3.
That's when the Browns gave him a call in the seventh round. Cleveland didn't have a seventh round pick, however, so Wieting knew the call had to be about his availability as an undrafted signee.
Wieting, of course, didn't hesitate. When the Browns called again immediately after the draft, he was officially a Brown. His dad was there again in Iowa City, too, so after Wieting called his mom, Sue, who is a health care worker in Rockford, they celebrated by grilling some burgers, drinking some beer and talking about the city of Cleveland.
"It was kind of hard to put into words," Wieting said. "It's like you're waiting all day for that call when you don't know if a team will reach out. I was just grateful for the opportunity and really excited to get to work in an organization such as the Browns."
Wieting will need to keep using that weight room to ensure his time in Cleveland extends beyond training camp. His college stats for a tight end aren't flashy — he made just 13 catches for 185 receiving yards in four years with the Hawkeyes — but that's because he was mainly deployed as a blocking tight end. He also played through injuries to his knee, foot and shoulder all at once in his sophomore season and was in a constant battle for playing time with names like George Kittle, TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant. All three players are now NFL starters.
Wieting hopes to be the next player to benefit from Iowa's well-acclaimed tight end pedigree. He knows he has plenty of work left, but his odds of making the team aren't far fetched under new coach Kevin Stefanski, who has expressed an affinity for tight ends since he was hired in January.
He'll have to compete, however, in one of the most crowded position rooms on the Browns. Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant, Cleveland's 2020 fourth-round pick, headline a five-player group that will likely be one of the most competitive positions in training camp.
"From what I've been learning this past week, there's going to be a lot of opportunity for tight ends in this offense," Wieting said. "That's going to be a really exciting thing. I think I can bring a lot to the table."
For now, Wieting will have to keep bringing his effort to his garage. He's eager for the day where he can move the equipment out and have his first workout at the Browns facilities in Berea.
Until then, though, he has all he needs.
"It's not much," he said, "but you can do a lot with the right equipment and the right attitude."