Iowa star offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs will leave school early for NFL Draft
Tristan Wirfs is a larger-than-life athlete who needed only three seasons of college competition to prove he's ready for an NFL career.
So the star offensive tackle surprised no one Tuesday when he announced he's leaving Iowa a year early to enter the NFL Draft, where he projects as a first-round selection in April.
Wirfs, a 6-foot-6, 322-pound native of Mount Vernon, was named the top offensive lineman in the Big Ten Conference this season, and was a first team all-American selection by two voting groups (Football Writers Association of America and Walter Camp).
Wirfs played primarily right tackle for the Hawkeyes, beginning in his freshman season when Ike Boettger suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Wirfs was the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle for Iowa in Kirk Ferentz's 21 seasons as head coach.
He was that good.
As a sophomore, Wirfs started generating NFL buzz. He entered his junior year with expectations that it might be his last in a Hawkeye uniform, although he deflected all of those questions in an effort to keep the focus on an Iowa season that ended with a 10-3 record and a win over USC in the Holiday Bowl.
Wirfs' physical exploits, in the weight room or in the swimming pool, have long gone viral on social media. He is a once-in-a-generation talent at Iowa so gifted he could have had his choice of sports, including baseball or wrestling, or maybe even swimming, which was his first love.
But he is also so naturally affable that his offensive line coach at Iowa, Tim Polasek, tried to bring out a "mean side" in Wirfs this season, at least on the field.
Wirfs' absence is tempered somewhat by the news that fellow junior offensive tackle Alaric Jackson will return for his senior season. The 6-6, 320-pounder is also widely considered as a future NFL player, but he battled injuries this season and wants one more chance to prove himself.
Mark Kallenberger, who will be a junior next fall, has been groomed as the next starting tackle. He started at guard in the bowl game, but the 6-5, 291-pound native of Bettendorf is a natural on the outside of the line and saw action there the past two seasons when Wirfs was suspended for one game or Jackson was injured.
The Hawkeyes will be in good shape at tackle in 2020.
Wirfs will likely be the next in a long line of Hawkeye offensive linemen to be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Iowa previously lost two junior defensive stars when safety Geno Stone and defensive end A.J. Epenesa announced this month they were leaving early to pursue NFL careers.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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