Iowa Offensive Lineman Tristan Wirfs left plenty of marks in Mount Vernon. Many in town made marks on him too. When you're 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, it's hard not to make an impact.

The Gazette's Marc Morehouse caught up with Sarah and Tristan Wirfs and many others who helped propel the 2017 Gazette Prep Athlete of the Year forward into a three year starter.

Football always was going to find Tristan Wirfs

Tristan Wirfs of Mount Vernon sets up for a play in the fourth quarter at a high school football game with Mount Vernon at Bob Murphy Stadium in Williamsburg on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Tristan Wirfs of Mount Vernon sets up for a play in the fourth quarter at a high school football game with Mount Vernon at Bob Murphy Stadium in Williamsburg on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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MOUNT VERNON — Dialing the cellphone for Mount Vernon head football coach Lance Pedersen.

Of course, he’s at the Mount Vernon quarry with his son, Zavier. You hopefully have read about the quarry. It’s a scene in the story.

This is high summer in Iowa, meaning 90 million degrees with 6,000 percent humidity, but the koi fish will still bite. At this point, Zavier has a hot streak going on blue gills. Sweet corn is the igniter, by the way.

Pedersen coached Tristan Wirfs through high school football at Mount Vernon. Wirfs’ recruitment went the way a lot of Iowa homestaters’ recruitments go.

There’s not a lot of hype. There’s not a feeding frenzy of blue gills and sweet corn. Homestaters are Iowa or Iowa State and “thanks but no thanks” to mostly everyone else. Sure, it doesn’t always go that way, but homestater recruiting is generally a quiet affair.

Was football always going to find Tristan Wirfs?

 

“I think without a doubt,” Pedersen said. “I think with his size and athletic ability that kid has, football was going to be his ultimate game and it turned out that way.”

Pedersen believes that, yes, football was going to find Wirfs, but as it goes with college football, not everyone arrives at the same conclusion at the same time.

Iowa runs a pretty open practice for Iowa high school coaches. A few years ago, when the Hawkeyes would have afternoon spring practices, Pedersen would visit every day. One day, he took Tristan.

“The one day I took Tristan with me, it seemed like I got a lot more attention,” Pedersen said with a laugh.

Funny how that works.

After Wirfs performed at the Iowa camp, the Hawkeyes offered. Tristan wanted to commit right then and there.

Pedersen just wanted him to be sure. He didn’t want to see a bunch of committing and de-committing. Not that Wirfs would’ve gone that way, it’s a big decision for kids and families, and Wirfs’ recruiting wasn’t worldwide.

Pedersen wanted Wirfs to visit just one other school. Just to get a taste for what the world is like outside of Iowa City.

This led to the Michigan State trip. You’ve read that it wasn’t Wirfs’ favorite deal and, oh yeah, that did solidify him with the Hawkeyes.

“Luckily for us, because I’m a huge Hawkeye fan, they didn’t treat him very well,” Pedersen said. “They didn’t really know who he was.”

On the way home, Wirfs called Pedersen and said he’s committing to Iowa.

“I said, ‘You know what, you did what I asked, I can’t wait for you to be a Hawkeye,’” Pedersen said. “Had he not committed to Iowa, he would’ve had a lot more offers and a lot more attention. He made the commitment and stuck to it. I was really proud of him.”

Pedersen believes that earning a spot on Iowa’s offensive line is a good thing if you’re interested in becoming a professional football player. And he’s right. The college football website Pick Six Previews this summer compiled a list of schools that have put the most O-linemen in the NFL since 2000. Iowa has 17. Only five schools have more — Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.), Ohio State, Alabama and Wisconsin (No. 1 with 20).

 

“Coach Ferentz and Brian Ferentz and (offensive line coach) Tim Polasek and coach Reese Morgan are some of the best offensive line coaches in the nation,” Pedersen said. “I know they call it ‘Tight End U,’ because that’s where there’s recognition right now, but if you’re a starter on the offensive line at the University of Iowa, you have a chance to go big time.”

Besides being a Hawkeye fan, Pedersen knew on the football side, with Tristan being an O-lineman, it was a fit.

Being close to home probably didn’t hurt, either.

“Tristan is a huge family man, I know he absolutely loves his mom and his mom has done so much for him,” Pedersen said. “It was a perfect combination for everyone. He still had a chance to see his sister (Kaylia).”

Pedersen challenges his players to give back. He said Tristan took that with him to Iowa.

The “giving back” isn’t writing a check to the booster club.

“I’m talking about coming back to the elementary school, meeting with kids, going to a camp, showing up at practice or in the weight room,” Pedersen said. “He’s a quality, quality young man.”

Just so everyone knows, football wasn’t a snap of the fingers for Wirfs. And part of that was ...

Cue the quote you know is coming ...

“Tristan has always been a big guy and he’s talented and gifted,” Pedersen said. “I know his mom told you that for years, he was told, ‘Take it easy, don’t hurt anybody.’

“When I first got here, I had this huge kid, but he wasn’t as aggressive as we wanted him to be. For 13 years, he was told, ‘Take it easy, don’t hurt anybody.’ And, of course, now we’re saying, ‘Hammer people, let’s pancake some people.’

“I’ve heard his coaches talk about getting an edge and finishing blocks. Football was easy for him because of his size, but it was harder for him to actually know what he could do.”

Wirfs is on his way there. And Zavier, 9, snagged a painted turtle during this quarry fishing session and so now it’s time to go back to summer.

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