Iowa Football

NFL combine: For Tristan Wirfs, the showing is the 'mean'

And it's showtime this week for the Mount Vernon native, who has a first-rounder's agenda

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs speaks during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapoli
Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs speaks during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

INDIANAPOLIS — The interview questions kept coming up for Tristan Wirfs during his interview time.

The Buccaneers, the Giants, the Eagles. The questions kept coming on who the Iowa all-Big Ten offensive tackle interviewed with Wednesday at the NFL combine. It’s an open interview and lots of media here want to know who’s talking with whom.

For the record, Wirfs already had three formal interviews with seven more Wednesday and then another 12 after this week. That is the agenda of a first-round draft pick who could end up in the top 10.

Wirfs also was asked if he liked pancakes, meaning the blocks that result in flattened D-linemen. For some reason, he was asked if he’d been to Florida and Arizona.

Contrast that minutiae with some of the real-life questions Wirfs took in his 15 minutes at podium 1 and you see how these interviews can whiplash around. He went from “combine lite” tolife growing up with a single mom, starting with the trailer court in Mount Vernon and how quickly he wants to take care of his family. It also wasn’t an automatic slam dunk on the decision to make the leap to the NFL. He walked everyone through sitting and meeting with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and some of the conversations they had on the topic.

Through it all, Wirfs was himself. Biggest job interview of his life, he had to try to remember the dizzying amount of interviews and cover his personal life.

So, when asked about the possibility of ending up at guard instead of tackle, it was a blip. With formal interviews any combine invitee would drool over, there were better things for Wirfs to talk about.

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“Growing up in Mount Vernon was really nice,” Wirfs said. “We lived in a trailer park with my grandma up until kindergarten, and then we moved into the house that my mom (Sarah) still lives in and my grandma moved in with us.

“My mom was kind of like the rock of the family. She did her best to, to get to all my events and my sister’s events even when they overlapped. She’s worked at Target for 28 years, so she’s a pretty hard-working person. I think I got my work ethic from her, 100 percent.”

That work ethic will work for him this week. Wirfs was great in his media interview, but he wants to get to the drills, where the work ethic thathelped build a weight-room dynamo should have NFL teams lining up for formal interviews.

“I’m just excited to get to get out there and do all this stuff and do all the tests,” Wirfs said with the smile he had when he was 12years old hitting 300-foot home runs into the Mount Vernon municipal swimming pool. “It’s going to be a fun couple of days.”

Tristan Wirfs could hit the (bleep) out of the baseball

Wirfs has a lot working for him. Strength will be a differentiator. He maxed out at 500 pounds in the hang clean under Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle.

“A lot of explosion when you’re powering your hips,” Wirfs said. “Coach Doyle thinks I could do more because he said I’m barely using my hips when I do this. So with just maybe a little bit better technique doing it I could do more. But I think just explosion, going your hips through and try and move guys off the line of scrimmage.”

That’s how a 500-pound hang clean will work for him. Iowa’s reputation for producing high-level NFL offensive linemen (NFL.com’s pro comparison for Wirfs was former Hawkeye Bryan Bulaga) also will punch the clock for Wirfs here.

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“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. Coach Doyle was an offensive line coach. So we have (O-line coach) 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. Kind of like 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.”

Another way Iowa worked for Wirfs? His name is A.J. Epenesa. He’s also a likely first rounder and he’ll be speaking at the combine Thursdasy. Wirfs’ answer to toughest defensive lineman he has faced was quick and definitive, like a pin in wrestling.

“A.J. Epenesa, 100 percent,” Wirfs said.

Remember the questions about Wirfs being “mean” enough? That’s still around. There’s no drill for “mean” at the combine. Wirfs was asked how you get meaner.

“Yeah, you tell me. I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never been a really mean person. So I think that’s a testament to my mom, the way she raised me. I’ve never been, I mean, for sure anything like that so I think they just want to see me get more pancakes like that guy said.

“I think I did that a fair amount this season. Last year against Nebraska I had 14 knockdowns so I’m trying to be a little bit meaner but we’ll see.”

When Wirfs was a senior at Mount Vernon, he made it to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. On a bus ride to practice, the conversation turned to how many offers each player had. When it came to Wirfs, he said two. That came with some ridicule. Wirfs had a perfect response.

“I remember on the bus ride to practice one day, they were going around saying how many offers they had,” Wirfs said. “I said, ‘Two.’ And then ‘How are you here with two offers?’

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“I was like, ‘I don’t know. Wait until we get to practice, I’ll show you.’”

The showing is the “mean,” and everyone will get a show later this week.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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