Sometime late Thursday afternoon in Mount Vernon, a KCRG camera crew set up a red carpet leading from Sarah Wirfs’ front door about 25 feet to her son.
Tristan Wirfs greeted his mom with a bouquet of flowers and a giant hug. Sarah Wirfs smiled. They walked the red carpet arm-in-arm and stopped at the front door for a few photos. Sarah and Kaylia, Tristan’s sister, wore T-shirts that said “I [heart] Big T.” The family put a banner in the front yard with photos of Tristan in Iowa gear and a hashtag that says #LFG.
Yes, that’s “let’s bleeping go.” That’s a sentiment that carries a home with a single mother and two kids through whatever comes up. And look how far it’s carried the Wirfses.
Wirfs, who starred as a Mount Vernon prep and took off as a Hawkeye, heard his name come up at No. 13, going to the newly Tom Brady’d Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thursday night during the NFL draft.
Wirfs is the 10th first-round pick during head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 22 seasons, following the tight end duo of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant in the 2019 draft. The Buccaneers have popped up on the radar with the recent acquisitions of former New England Patriots Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The Buccaneers want to protect Brady, so they traded with the San Francisco 49ers to move up to make the Wirfs pick.
Wirfs also is the 18th offensive lineman to be drafted under Ferentz. Offensive lineman Robert Gallery remains the highest pick of the Ferentz era, going No. 2 to the Raiders in 2004. In 2015, offensive lineman Brandon Scherff was the No. 5 pick (Washington Redskins).
Wirfs was the fourth offensive tackle taken Thursday night. According to Spotrac.com, a website that tracks NFL salaries, Wirfs is in line for a four-year $16.2 million contract and a $9.6 million signing bonus.
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You could argue that this journey started for Wirfs when he was 12 years old playing youth baseball in Mount Vernon. One day, the kid who was a head taller than the other kids and bigger than some of the dads launched a 300-foot home run off the mushroom in the middle of the city swimming pool. It startled a lifeguard and set a pace that Wirfs kept pushing.
Wirfs won state championships in the discus and shot put for Mount Vernon High School. He went from a novice in wrestling, sporting a record something like 7-30 as a freshman, to a state champion as a senior. He was the 2017 Gazette Male Athlete of the Year.
College football recruiting was a blip for Wirfs. Iowa State called and offered first. Then, it was Iowa. Wirfs took a visit to Michigan State and immediately committed to Iowa after returning from a visit to East Lansing.
His Iowa career kicked off a year early due to injuries. Boone Myers succumbed to a serious ankle injury in 2017. In game six against Illinois, Wirfs became the first Hawkeye freshman to start at offensive tackle during the Ferentz era.
“Going into camp my freshman year, we still had Ike (Boettger) and Boone,” Wirfs said. “People would ask me if I was going to redshirt. I didn’t know. If I did, I did. If I didn’t, I didn’t. I thought maybe I’d get into a game at the end if we were up or something. And then Ike got hurt and then Boone was hurt. I was like, ‘Welp.’”
Wirfs never left the lineup and only kept improving.
Early last season, when left tackle Alaric Jackson suffered a sprained knee in the opener, Wirfs shifted from right to left. In a few games, he played both, making way for the most stable O-line possible. Wirfs brushed it off as “wiping your butt with your left hand instead of your right.” The lack of experience at left tackle didn’t seem to be a deal breaker for Wirfs, who, at the NFL combine, noted that he had more than 20 formal interviews.
On Jan. 14, Wirfs officially announced he would forgo his senior season at Iowa and enter the NFL draft. Wirfs is the 15th Hawkeye to leave early for the draft (tight end Dallas Clark was the first to do so during the Ferentz era, going in the second round of the 2003 draft). Wirfs is the fifth of the underclassmen to go in the first round (Bryan Bulaga, Riley Reiff, Hockenson and Fant).
To kind of bring this full circle, Wirfs was the 18th Iowa offensive lineman drafted during Ferentz’s time. Also on Thursday, the Hawkeyes received a commitment from Beau Stephens, a 6-6, 305-pounder from Blue Springs (Mo.) High School. Stephens had 14 offers, including LSU, Texas A&M and Michigan.
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The second most-drafted position of the Ferentz era is defensive back at 14. With cornerback Michael Ojemudia and safety Geno Stone expected to be drafted this weekend, things might tighten up, but Iowa’s main cash crop always will be O-linemen.
“You get coach (Kirk) Ferentz, who’s been an O-line coach for I don’t know how long,” Wirfs said. “You’ve got coach Brian (Ferentz) there (he played O-line at Iowa and was OL coach for five years). (Strength and conditioning) Coach (Chris) Doyle was an offensive line coach. we have (current O-line) coach (Tim) Polasek now, too. So there’s a lot of people watching the O-line and they just want the best for you.
“And I think the type of culture that we have there, it just breeds success. Everybody’s working toward the same goals. I kind of like kind of hive-mind. I think people come there and want to be great. And then coach Doyle develops you more than you ever know in the weight room. So, it’s kind of a factory almost.”
The factory showroom had quite a ride Thursday night.
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