The athletic big man is saying home; he'll be a Hawkeye football player upon graduation.
SOLON, Ia. — The play of Solon’s 2016 season probably happened in Week 4, during the Spartans’ 36-15 win at Washington.
Here’s how it went down…
A Solon defender anticipated a screen, jumped the route and intercepted the pass on Solon’s 30-yard line. Right after he caught it, the defender employed a full-on "Madden NFL" spin move to avoid a would-be tackler. Then, with no one between him and the end zone, the defender turned on his jets and outran everybody 70 yards for a touchdown.
That defender wasn’t a cornerback or a safety. It wasn’t a linebacker. Wasn’t even a defensive end.
It was a nose tackle — nose tackle — Tyler Linderbaum.
"That’s not common," laughed Solon head coach Kevin Miller, remembering the now-legendary pick-six. "(Linderbaum) could play fullback or tight end for us, because he's athletic enough to do so and he has the skill set to do it. That’s the crazy thing — he used to play quarterback in junior high."
That’s the story with Linderbaum, an Iowa Eight selection and 2018 Hawkeyes commit. His athleticism — especially his fluidity and loose hips, Scout.com’s Allen Trieu said — belies his 6-foot-2, 270-pound frame. It’s what drew Iowa, Iowa State and Minnesota’s attention. It’s what separates him from prospects who don't pair nuance and finesse with their strength.
But where does "it" come from? Why does Linderbaum look the part of a Big Ten lineman, while he can also play wide receiver for Solon’s scout team?
Simple: He’s a six-sport athlete crammed into a three-star lineman’s body.
He hit .346 and played rock-solid third base for Solon’s baseball team this year. He notched 41 pins as a wrestler and earned fifth place in the state tournament's 285-pound division. He placed third in the Class 3A state meet shot put with a throw of 53 feet, 11.25 inches. He dominates in pick-up basketball and would contribute immediately if he played for Solon. He also played golf for the Spartans freshman year.
"I mean, I’m decent," Linderbaum laughed. "I’m a baseball player trying to play golf, if that tells you anything."
"We haven’t had any (lineman like Linderbaum) at Solon, honestly," added Miller, entering his 17th season at the helm for the Spartans. "I don't know where he’ll play at Iowa, whether that’s on the defensive line or on the offensive line. He kind of is your prototype center because he’s athletic and he’s really smart and understands the game. But he’s also powerful enough to play defensive line.
"He uses such quick moves; he uses his hands well, plays with great leverage and plays with great technique."
For as unique a talent as he is, Linderbaum was very much a late-bloomer in the recruiting world. He didn’t get many looks after his sophomore season, when he recorded 27.5 tackles. He then notched 42.5 tackles and seven solo tackles for loss last year — and Iowa State noticed. The Cyclones offered Linderbaum in late January, a month before their junior day.
Iowa finally jumped in and offered Linderbaum at their junior day in early March. Linderbaum took unofficial visits to Iowa State and Minnesota before committing to Iowa in early May. He’s been a Hawkeye fan for as long as he can remember; one of his earliest memories is Drew Tate’s game-winning touchdown to Warren Holloway in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
Linderbaum, just five years old, watched as Drew Tate made a 56-yard pass to Warren Holloway in the final seconds for the game-winning touchdown in the 2005 Capital One Bowl — a 30-25 Hawkeyes win over LSU. Matt Bain / Iowa City Press-Citizen
"I knew (Iowa) was going to be tough to beat," Linderbaum said. "I grew up being a Hawkeye fan and going to their games, so I know when I got that offer, I was, like, 'Oh, that's going to be tough to beat.'"
Solon's standout enters his senior season as the leader of one of Iowa high school football's most vaunted line units. Seniors Zach Wegmann (6-2, 220) and Joe Kral (6-1, 260) help anchor the trenches, and they’ll all block for Kendrick Harris (6-0, 185) a bruiser of a tailback poised for a 1,000-yard season.
Linderbaum obviously doesn't have much to play for, recruiting-wise. But he wants a state title. And because he was a relative unknown until recently, his recruiting rankings — No. 4 2018 prospect in Iowa and No. 66 defensive tackle in the class, according to the 247Sports Composite — could see a bump this year, too.
"I like him so much that I’m going to keep an eye on what he does this year, because I want to make sure we’ve got that one correct," Trieu said. "I think the biggest thing for him: He’s shown us the physical gifts that he has. I think, as a senior, a kid that gifted and a kid being a senior and being one of the best kids in the state, I think you just want to see him dominate. So if he goes out and improves upon his junior year, I could definitely see him rising up the rankings."
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_.