Iowa — Kirk Ferentz, Chris Doyle, Brian Ferentz and, now, Tim Polasek — can and always will be able to "make" offensive linemen.
Kirk Ferentz coached the position at Iowa for nine years before spending time coaching offensive lines in the NFL and then coming back as Iowa’s head coach in 1999. Ferentz keenly knows the spine of the Iowa program is offensive linemen.
A percent of Iowa fandom believes Hayden Fry pulled the program out of the dumpster in the early 1980s with hocus pocus and plate-spinning on offense. In realty, the “exotics” were 2 percent of what Iowa did on offense if even that much.
If the Hawkeyes are good at blocking and tackling, they have a chance to have an interesting season. You can reject or accept the notion, but modern Iowa football is built on very simple, fundamental grips and grunts.
This all said, the raw material Iowa found from within the state borders in the 2017 class is promising.
Mount Vernon’s Tristan Wirfs is a U.S. Army All-American. The Hawkeyes don’t have a ton of those running through the Hansen Performance Center. So, Wirfs and his 6-5, 315-pound frame start from a pretty great place.
Bettendorf’s Mark Kallenberger stands out for a mean streak. Watch his Hudl video. It looks like it sucked to play football against him.
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Iowa first offered Madrid’s Coy Kirkpatrick believing it found a defensive lineman, possibly a D-end. Kirkpatrick committed super early and, over time, the defensive line thoughts switched to offensive line. With a 6-5, 270-pound frame, Iowa might have a solid OL who can play anywhere on the line of scrimmage.
I believe the floor for these guys is two-year starter. That’s the floor. The ceiling? Let your imagination go wild. Iowa knows what it’s doing with OL.
Bettendorf offensive tackle Mark Kallenberger visited Iowa practice on a Thursday late last March. Before he left, he posed for a picture with head coach Kirk Ferentz and in the world of college football recruiting you know what that means.
Kallenberger, a 6-6, 250-pounder, also had offers from Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas State. Kallenberger visited Nebraska around three prior. At one point, he told Rivals.com that Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska were three schools that stood out for him.
Around 11:30 that Thursday morning, Kallenberger tweeted “I am very excited to announce that I will be furthering my education and football career at the University of Iowa!”
And, yes, that tweet came with a picture of Kallenberger and Ferentz.
I am very excited to announce that I will be furthering my education and football career at the University of Iowa! pic.twitter.com/TUjcsC1Wy5
— Mark Kallenberger (@m_kallenberger) March 31, 2016
Iowa offered Kallenberger a scholarship in mid-January during a junior day visit.
“I was pretty happy,” Kallenberger told HawkeyeReport.com upon receiving the offer. “It’s just one of those things where I’m an Iowa kid and I’ve always wanted to play for Iowa. I’ve always been a fan of Iowa. Just being given the opportunity to play there, it’s awesome. It’s just a great feeling.”
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When the Hawkeyes were in pursuit of their 12-0 regular season last year, Ferentz and staff put everything else, recruiting included, out of mind. So, that’s what Kallenberger heard when he visited Kinnick Stadium in the fall.
“Coach Ferentz and Coach (Reese) Morgan just kept repeating, ‘January, January, January,’” Kallenberg told HawkeyeReport.com. “Then today, when I talked to Coach Morgan before I got the offer, he goes, ‘Hey Mark, remember when we talked about January? Well, it’s January now.’ Then, not long after that, I got the offer.”
Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Played offensive tackle while helping prep team post three-year mark of 31-5 over three seasons, reaching staff playoffs three straight years.”
Noteworthy offer: Nebraska
Depth chart in 2017?: No. Kallenberger is light at 260 and the body build will take at least a year. That first year inside the Iowa program is so, so important. It’s a period of buy-in and all of the work is done outside of public view. This is when habits are built and there aren’t 70,000 fans inside of the weight room giving you a rush. This is when, I imagine, coaches find out if they have a five-year, dedicated player. Kallenberger knows this and will jump in with both feet.
Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Eric Steinbach
I want to be careful with this. I’m making this compare with Kallenberger and Steinbach having similar 6-6 frames. Steinbach was an explosive player who began his Iowa career as a tight end. He also ended up setting weight room records for O-linemen at Iowa with squats in the 650-pound neighborhood. I don’t know where Kallenberger begins with his strength and explosiveness, but he does possess a similar frame to Steinbach. Other names I’d throw out for Kallenberger are Markus Zusevics and Brett VanSloten.
Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell (this is more the conversation I had with coach Bell on the prospect) — Me: I think Mark looks more like a tackle, but I’m sure you guys will keep it flexible and fit him in where you need him.
KB: You talk about a developmental program, Mark fits the mold. He’s probably 255, 260 pounds. He looks fit.
Me: He does look like he needs to add weight.
KB: Once he does, he could go either way. I played with a guy here at Iowa, Eric Steinbach. Steiny was as skinny as they get. He played at 270-something pounds at guard, all-Big Ten, all-American. But he was athletic and he competed.
Me: And he could squat 700 pounds.
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KB: And he could squat 700 pounds. To typecast Mark as a tackle or guard, he’s an offensive lineman. He’s going to fit where he fits.
Me: What makes him a good football player?
KB: He’s a multisport athlete, a basketball player, track, things of that nature. When I’m out on the road recruiting, I have fun and say, high school offensive linemen, that’s where all of the bad athletes go. Of course, I’m kidding. Every now and then, you’ll find guys like Tristan and Mark, these guys are really good athletes, they just happen to be playing offensive line.
ESPN scouting report excerpt: Tough player whose effectiveness is aided by his tenacious demeanor. Plays with a finisher’s attitude. Kallenberger is a prospect who will likely need and benefit from a redshirt, but is a good player with some upside. Immediate impact may be limited, but with added size and continued work we feel can develop into a quality Power-5 starter.
My take: New O-line coach Tim Polasek will not have to teach Kallenberger the art of the finish. His junior Hudl video shows a player with attitude who blocks through the echo of the whistle. If you play across from him, you will hate him in the first half and just want to get away from him in the second. I have no idea on his strength, but Kallenberger shows a superior punch for his level of football. He stopped most rushers at initial contact and showed a quick reset when he met a stalemate. This OL group should have a say on the depth chart by 2018.
When or if the early signing period happens, it will be because of prospects like Coy Kirkpatrick.
He camped at Iowa in June 2015 and received a scholarship offer on the Monday after camp. He committed a few hours later. Kirkpatrick also had an Iowa State offer, but it was over.
“I committed to Iowa,” Kirkpatrick told HawkeyeReport.com. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play for them. When I first got the offer, I couldn’t believe it. At this young of age, I wouldn’t have thought of committing to any college, but when Iowa offered, it was a chance I was not going to pass up.”
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Kirkpatrick first popped up on Iowa’s radar during the state track meet his sophomore year. After he finished fourth in the shot put, Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan was in contact and invited him to camp.
Football is a family thing for the Kirkpatricks, chronicled in this Boone Republican News post.
Coy’s dad, Craig, rushed for 1,700 yards for Madrid’s state title team in 1991. At one point during his prep career, Coy played offensive line with his brothers Clay and Cade.
“It was great being able to look to my left and see one brother next to me, and look right to see another,” Coy Kirkpatrick said. “Clay, he’s helped me a lot. Freshmen, they’re getting everything, but he knew I had potential to be something.”
The oldest brother was right. Following his senior year, Coy will be headed off to the University of Iowa to play under Kirk Ferentz on the offensive line. Before that though, he will try to take the year slow.
“I mean, everybody had the question, are you looking forward to playing at Iowa,” he said. “I’m just going to take it one sport at a time. I’m going to cherish every moment I have with my friends.
"I remember starting my first game, and now I’m a senior getting ready to play my first game in a week. I’ll be ready for college when it comes around, but I’ve got my senior year and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Four-year football letterman as defensive lineman, offensive lineman and fullback. Helped prep team reach state playoffs four straight years, with combined record of 31-12, including 9-2 mark as a senior.”
Noteworthy offer: Iowa State
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Depth chart in 2017?: No. There’s building the body, but Iowa also has O-line scholarship bodies stacked like cord wood right now. There shouldn’t be a reason to rush along Kirkpatrick, who was initially recruited as a defensive lineman and maybe could still end up there but probably not. At least for now. I know that doesn’t make sense, but D-line is kind of in play for Kirkpatrick.
Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Boone Myers
This was a tough one, but, if I don’t say so myself, I think I nailed it. Myers came out of Webster City as a 6-5, 255-pound tight end/defensive end with some explosion. A few weeks ago, I retweeted an A.J. Epenesa tomahawk slam dunk during an Edwardsville (Ill.) prep game. Boone’s dad tweeted a smiliar dunk Boone made during his prep days at Webster City.
I think Kirkpatrick’s track medals show explosion. He has a similar frame. I think he could follow a similar path to Myers, who’ll begin his third season as Iowa’s starting left tackle this spring.
Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell (this is more the conversation I had with coach Bell on the prospect) — Me: Is he an offensive or defensive lineman?
KB: Position flexibility. He came to the same camp with Tristan Wirfs, Jake Coons. He camped as a defensive lineman. We think his future is as an offensive lineman. Can he come back and play defensive line? Yes. Bur for right now, as far as needs for us, he’s probably better suited starting off on the offensive line.
Me: To me, he physically looks like Matt Roth. I’m not saying football-wise, but body, he’s in that neighborhood.
KB: He’s the type of kid who’s got the frame to put on weight. And I wouldn’t rule out a possible return to the defensive line. We’ll see.
ESPN scouting report excerpt: Can be physical player that displays bit of a lunch pail demeanor. Range is average for size. Kirkpatrick is a tough, solid prospect. Plays on both sides of the ball and could receive interest as an offensive guard prospect and might even offer a little higher upside on that side of the ball. Also plays along the defensive line and could at least get a look as a defender initially. Regardless of how utilized needs to continue to add size and develop.
My take: Level of competition makes Kirkpatrick’s Hudl video a tougher read. He’s the dominant player on the field. There are quicker players, but no one set off more of a wave than Kirkpatrick. It is Class 1A football in Iowa. Some of the highlights showed cornfields surrounding the stadium. It’s a beautiful setting, but there aren’t a lot of 6-5, 250-pound bodies running around. That said, Kirkpatrick buried defenders and chased down ball carriers. I can see him competing for a guard spot in a few years.
College football has its shares of comings and goings. In December 2015, the Hawkeyes fell to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. On the other side of that coin, offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs was fresh off a visit to Michigan State.
That’s when he decided to play football at Iowa.
Two weeks before picking the Hawkeyes, Wirfs made an unofficial visit to East Lansing for the Spartans regular-season finale against Penn State.
“I expected it to blow my mind, but it just didn’t,” Wirfs said. “On our drive home, I just kind of told my mom that Iowa was the place for me. It’s close to home, the coaches are great, it all just felt like home.”
And on signing day, “I committed to Iowa after I got back from Michigan State. Some places are going to tell you what you want to hear and some places tell you what you need to hear and Iowa is one of those places who tells you what you need to hear.”
When Wirfs was named captain of the Iowa Newspaper Association Class 2A all-state team, Wirfs credited a number of people for building him into a dominant lineman. His family, especially his mother, have supported him. He has grown up playing the game with longtime friends, who became his teammates.
Wirfs was always big and used that to his advantage on the football field.
Then, there are coaches, specifically Mount Vernon coach Lance Pedersen, who took over in 2014. Wirfs said Pedersen assisted with exposure. Pedersen was constantly in Wirfs’ ear, emphasizing hard work and demanding more out of him.
“I knew being big wasn’t just going to cut it,” said Wirfs, who returned an interception for a 16-yard TD and returned a block punt for a score. “I knew I had to step it up if I wanted to play at the next level, like I always dreamed about. Coach Pedersen helped me with that. I think he saw something in me that I didn’t see at the time. He just pushed me to be as good as I can be.”
Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Recorded 35 tackles as a senior, with three sacks and one fumble recovery. Also had one interception for a touchdown and returned a blocked punt for a score.”
Noteworthy offer: Iowa State
Depth chart in 2017?: Probably not. Wirfs is big and so I throw the “probably” in there. But reality says not a lot of true freshmen compete on the line of scrimmage for Iowa in the Big Ten West. It’s a scrimmage league. Iowa, Wisconsin and, to a certain extent, Minnesota have followed that path. In a scrimmage league, true freshmen often don’t have mature enough bodies to make an impact on the line of scrimmage. James Daniels did. Before him? It was Bryan Bulaga. Not many between or before. Wirfs probably takes a year to acclimate.
Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Brandon Scherff
OK, OK, OK, I know. Scherff might be incomparable. He won the Outland Trophy. He has otherworldly strength. We’re talking about the Hawkeye Brandon Scherff. What did we know about him as a Denison Monarch? He was a great overall athlete, there was the QB stuff and he was a forward on the hoops team. He also played some tennis. We don’t exactly know how strong he was, but we do know that he was a state placewinner in track and field as a thrower. He also came to Iowa 6-5, 295. What do we know about Wirfs right now? He’s 6-5, 315. He’s a state champion heavyweight wrestler. He’s thrown the discus more than 185 feet and he’s thrown the shot put nearly 61 feet. Wirfs will start his Iowa career in Scherff range, size and strength. Let’s see where it goes. (BTW, I’ve been told Wirfs and A.J. Epenesa will possibly throw for the Iowa track team. Possibly.)
Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell (this is more the conversation I had with coach Bell on the prospect) — Me: OK, Tristan lost 37 pounds so he could wrestle heavyweight. That probably shows he’s disciplined. He also rose up to 4 stars, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and never wavered on his commitment to Iowa.
KB: He knew exactly what he wanted. Tristan’s rise to 4 stars is an interesting one for me. He went to our camp and The Opening in Chicago, those were the only two exposures he got. Then he goes on to the Army All-American game, his tape speaks for itself, as a multisport guy, wrestler and baseball player. He fits the mold of what we’re trying to get here.
One thing I ask him every day is how’d you lose that weight? I want in on that. I want that secret. How’d you lose that much weight?
Me: He’s a kid.
KB: That’s how he lost it, he’s a kid.
But yes, extremely disciplined. Close to home. He knew what he wanted, regardless.
Me: I’ll ask you, but I think he’s another one of those “get here, see what happens” guys, but is he a tackle or a guard?
KB: He’s an offensive lineman.
Me: That’s fair.
KB: That’s the way the guys are trained here. The more you can do, the more you can play. To say he’ll be a tackle would be a disservice. If he’s the fifth-best lineman or the sixth-best lineman, he’s going to plug in and play whatever spot.
ESPN scouting report excerpt: Wirfs is a big man with some good physical tools. Shows some intriguing flashes, but big fish in smaller pond that can look to lean on size/strength advantage at times and needs to better blend technique with physical ability. At this stage little bit of a developmental prospect, but player with some upside and could develop into a good, productive starter at Power-5 level.
My take: Let’s check some U.S., Army Bowl video: First rep vs. Texas A&M signee Jayden Peevy, Wirfs false started. He decked Peevy, but the rep was dead. Second rep, Peevy got the first step on Wirfs, but Wirfs overpowered Peevy’s outside shoulder and got him turned and controlled before he got to the QB. Peevy did a swim back to the inside, but Wirfs did a good job staying engaged. Next rep was against UCLA signee Odua Isibor. Isibor got an inside step on Wirfs and powered through Wirf’s inside shoulder for a relatively clean pressure. In a rep vs. Alabama DE signee Jarez Parks, Wirfs stood up at initial impact, but allowed Parks to get his hands inside. Parks also won leverage and got a clean pressure. Against Ohio State commitment Chase Young, Wirfs made him bend his path to the QB, showing quick feet. He lost contact with Young, but the bowed path to the QB won Wirfs the rep. Clemson signee Jordan Williams tried to go inside on Wirfs and started to turn the corner, but Wirfs caught up and overpowered Williams into the turf.
Some of Iowa’s best tackles began their careers as guards (Bryan Bulaga, Scherff). I think that’s how it might go for Wirfs. I believe he’ll get a shot at tackle. He has length and quick feet. He’ll have a chance to show he can handle it.
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• Interactive Map: Iowa's 2017 football recruits
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