An inside look at Tristan Wirfs with Iowa's offensive line coach Tim Polasek
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tim Polasek wasn’t officially announced as Iowa’s offensive line coach until Feb. 14., so he didn’t get to recruit Tristan Wirfs.
He wishes he had.
"He’s been easy to get along with," Polasek said of his true freshman lineman in a conversation with HawkCentral this week. "I feel like we’re going to have a good connection here going forward."
Polasek spoke at length about Wirfs, who, along with A.J. Epenesa, is one of Iowa's preeminent 2017 recruits. The former North Dakota State offensive coordinator discussed potential immediate roles for Wirfs, ideal position and weight range for the Mount Vernon product, and whether redshirting might be a possibility.
Here are the highlights from HawkCentral's conversation with Polasek:
Potential for immediate role
Yes, Wirfs could crack the offensive line rotation as a true freshman.
"Physically," Polsaek said, "he has a chance to be ready to go."
The only thing that might keep Wirfs from the field, Polasek said, would be "football IQ" issues — stuff that only gets resolved over time in the college game.
"He seems to be somewhat of a natural just playing the game when he’s in his one-on-one situations," Polasek said. "But he still has a little bit of a learning curve here — protection-wise and the back side of runs for him, and then the front side of technique all needs to continue to get better before we would be talking about getting him on the field.
"But I can tell you this: He (puts) himself into action based on what he’s done in some one-on-one situations, whether that’s pass protection (or other situations). He’s just such a mature kid physically. I mean, quite frankly, with me coming from the Division I-AA level, and from what I understand here at Iowa we’re still a developmental program, but how many times have you guys seen us bring in a 6-5¼, 313-pound kid?"
Tackle or guard
Tackle, Polasek said. Maybe even left tackle, arguably the most important position for a team with a right-handed quarterback — like Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers.
"The interesting thing is he’s been only right tackle for the first eight days, and then yesterday (Wednesday) we saw him (at left tackle)," Polasek said. "And for a true freshman, it did not (faze him). Some of those guys can only play on one side and it’s like 'Holy smokes.' It wasn't like that at all.
"In fact, I’m not sure, but he may be just a little bit more comfortable on the left side, just getting in his stance and 'Here we go.' That type of thing."
Wirfs is listed at 6-5 and 315 pounds on Iowa’s roster, but Polasek said they’re trying to keep him right around 313 pounds. Part of Wirfs’ four-star intrigue was uncanny athleticism for his size. It’s what helped him become a state champion in wrestling, shot put and discus.
Iowa doesn’t want to lose that for some extra bulk.
"We’ve been fortunate with the weather," Polasek said with a laugh. "I’d venture to say if we had a real hot day out there, we could get to 309 or 310. But (strength and conditioning) coach (Chris) Doyle and his staff, and what we do here nutrition-wise, is just unbelievable. The kid’s been able to maintain 313, 314. I know, target weight-wise, we have him around 313."
While coaches are trying to keep Wirfs at his current weight, they’re trying to add pounds to true freshman lineman Mark Kallenberger (who’s listed at 250), another guy Polasek is very excited to see develop.
Could Wirfs redshirt?
The notion of redshirting will always surface with a talent like Wirfs. Why not stash him for one year and get an even better version for the next four?
Polasek said redshirt decisions are ultimately up to head coach Kirk Ferentz.
"But I can tell you this: It’s a two-way street," Polasek said. "You redshirt a guy, you get him for five years and all this. But we’re in the Big Ten; the kid is really a wonderful athlete. There’s no guarantee you have him for five years or whatever it is. Injuries may play a part.
"And if he has the ability to help us as a football team this year — that can be as simple as starting on the field goal (unit) and playing as many reps as we can possibly get him and providing depth and continuing to learn our offense by being with the first group the whole time — there’s value in that. That allows a kid immediately the next year to compete for a starting job."
Polasek talked about Easton Stick, his North Dakota State quarterback that helped shatter Hawkeye dreams last fall. Right away, Polasek said he knew Stick was destined to be "the guy" after Carson Wentz. He was glad Stick was on NDSU's travel squad as a freshman, despite redshirting that year, so he could watch how Wentz prepared for every game.
Redshirts at the FBS level are less likely to land on the travel squad.
"Let’s talk about the redshirt deal. If he redshirts, he doesn't travel, he doesn't get to go through that game prep — which I value a lot," Polasek said. "Seeing Ike Boettger going through the process of getting ready for a game is so critical for a young guy.
"I think there’s value in both (redshirting and not redshirting). We’re definitely considering it, I can tell you that."
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.