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Like Tristan Wirfs before him, Tyler Linderbaum puts the ‘1’ in Iowa Highway 1
Mount Vernon had its NFL first-rounder in 2020 with Wirfs. It was Solon’s turn with Linderbaum on Thursday night.
Statistic: Less than 3 percent of all high school football players earn full-ride college scholarships.
Statistic: About 1.2 percent of Division I players get drafted by NFL teams, and fewer than one-seventh of those are first-rounders.
Statistic: The 48 contiguous U.S. states occupy over 3 million square miles.
Thus, calculating the odds of Tristan Wirfs and Tyler Linderbaum both becoming first-round NFL draft picks in the span of two years may require the help of characters from “The Big Bang Theory.”
In 2020, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ Wirfs was a first-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A Super Bowl win and a Pro Bowl roster selection have come his way in that short time.
Thursday, the Hawkeyes’ Linderbaum was a first-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens, four months after winning the Rimington Trophy as the best center in college football.
Wirfs is from Mount Vernon, Linderbaum from Solon. Those towns of under 5,000 population are about 10 miles apart on Iowa Highway 1.
Three million square miles spanning 48 states. Such a small percentage of high school football players reach the NFL. The chances of two of the last 96 NFL first-rounders coming from so close together are, oh, infinitesimal?
Wirfs and Linderbaum wrestled each other several times in high school and also were in high school track and field shot put competitions together before they went to the same university and were on the same offensive line.
Then-junior Linderbaum defeated senior Wirfs the last time they wrestled, on Feb. 7, 2017 in Solon. But he is the first to tell you the heavier Wirfs beat him in each of the several times they squared off before that.
“I stalled a lot, that’s for sure,” Linderbaum said last fall when recounting his win. “I was trying to get him not to throw me.
“I think the refs were on my side that match.”
Both came to Iowa for football, not wrestling. Wirfs was a clear-cut offensive tackle who wasted little time making an impact. Linderbaum began his Hawkeyes career as a defensive lineman, but switched to center after his redshirt freshman season. He immediately was a revelation, and started every game in his three seasons.
Tampa Bay has gotten exactly what it saw and wanted in Wirfs. Baltimore is highly likely to end up saying the same about Linderbaum.
“We respect you, love the way you play,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh told Linderbaum when the team called him at his Solon home Thursday night to tell him they were taking him with the 25th pick of the draft.
“You’re going to add an element to our offensive line, intensity, mindset, toughness, all that.”
Harbaugh has been the Ravens’ coach since 2008. He was the coach during Marshal Yanda’s eight Pro Bowl seasons with the Ravens. Yanda played at Iowa, too. He is from Anamosa, 15 miles from Mount Vernon and a whopping 25 from Solon.
“I just couldn’t say enough good things, great things, about Marshal Yanda and his family,” Harbaugh said in 2020, two months before future Hall of Famer Yanda retired.
Two years later at the NFL Combine, Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta compared Linderbaum to Yanda.
"Tough, gritty, very, very athletic, very intelligent, smart. The type of guy that can really be the centerpiece of your offensive line."
Thursday, DeCosta told Linderbaum “We love your game. Center’s a huge need for us. You’re the best center in the draft, one of the very best I’ve seen in a long time.”
Two years ago, Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht called Wirfs to tell him he was becoming a Buccaneer, saying “We feel very fortunate and we’re pumped up to get you.”
Ten miles apart, Mount Vernon and Solon. Both have had a lot of glorious football seasons in their histories with a combined eight state championships, 19 championship-game appearances and 57 playoff appearances.
Now, they have NFL first-round draft picks two years apart. Highway 1, indeed.
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