By Leo Haggerty


First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

With the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Tristan Wirfs from the University of Iowa.  The Bucs traded up one spot with the San Francisco 49ers to take the 6’5 and 320 pound Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

So, how do I find out just what kind of player the Pewter Pirates are getting?  The answer to that was to talk with the person who coached the mammoth Mount Vernon, Iowa native for the past three years.

Caught up with Hawkeyes HC Kirk Ferentz yesterday.  The former University of Connecticut linebacker has directed the football fortunes in Iowa City for 20 years making him the longest tenured FBS coach with one program.

The Michigan native was no stranger to the Black & Gold when he took over the head coaching reigns from his retiring mentor Hayden Fry.  He was Fry’s offensive line coach for nine seasons and three of his “hogs” were first round selections in the NFL draft.

He spent three seasons at the head coach of the University of Maine before moving to the National Football League.  He spent six years in the National Football League.  He coached the offensive line under Cleveland Browns HC Bill Belicheck and stayed with the team when it moved to Baltimore as the offensive coordinator before going back to Iowa in 1999 where he will be starting his 21st season in Iowa City.

As you can see, Ferentz is not only the best source of Wirfs ability as college player. He knows what it takes to play offensive line and succeed in the NFL.

Below are the questions I asked Ferentz and his answers on Wirfs as a player as well as a person.  Enjoy.

LH – After coaching Tristan at Iowa, what are the traits that made him a first round selection for the Bucs at #13?
KW – Tristan was not only an excellent football player but he was also a State Champion wrestler.  He has all the measurable and they are off the charts.  He has a great attitude and work ethic. He fit right in here at Iowa from the first time he stepped on campus and did a great job for us.
LH – When you were making one of your many trips to the Outback Bowl, you said that Iowa usually gets the two and three star recruits and then you coach them up.  Was Tristan one of those guys?
KF – Not at all.  He lived about 60 miles from Iowa City.  If he was growing up in Chicago, he would have been on every major college program’s radar.  He was extremely polished when he committed to Iowa and continued to work to get better.
LH – What’s the one thing that will surprise the media and fans here in Tampa Bay about Tristan?
KF – I think what will surprise them is that he dropped from close to 350 pounds to wrestle at 285 his senior year in high school.  You put a challenge in front of him and he attacks it.  He has the ability to set a goal and be disciplined enough to achieve that goal.  He’s been that kind of guy his whole career.  Also, since I’ve been at Iowa, he’s the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle.  People need to realize that he’s just turned  21 in January.  He’s just a junior and his best football is ahead of him. I think the Bucs got a really good football player.  He’s a great run blocker and a really good pass blocker.  He can be as good as he wants to be.
LH – Was there a game during the 2019 season where you thought that’s a performance that will make Tristan a high NFL draft pick?
KF – Not really.  We truly thought he was going to be a very high draft pick when he came on campus.  We challenged him, as a freshman, to step up and he accepted that and became a starter on our offensive line.  To watch him develop over the last three years has been extremely satisfying as well as a lot of fun.  In fact, he played both tackles for us when the other starter went down early in the season with an injury.  His move from left tackle to right tackle was effortless.  He has that ability to play both sides.  He should be successful on either side.
LH – Watching what he did for his mother, putting a red carpet out in front of her house with him standing at the end with a big bouquet of flowers, had to choke you up.  Is he that kind of guy where family is extremely important?
KF – Yes, he is.  His mother has worked at Target for the last 28 years.  She’s worked hard and has instilled that in Tristan.  She’s been a big part of what he’s accomplished.  It’s a credit to her.
LH – Coach, thanks for your time and, if you can’t get to a major bowl, I hope to see you at the Outback Bowl next year.
KF – We consider the Outback Bowl to be a major bowl.  We always had a good time in Tampa in the six times we were invited to play.  Everyone associated with the bowl goes out of their way to make you feel wanted and appreciated.  They do such a wonderful job.  We have nothing but great experiences there.  That would give me a chance to come down and see Tristan play as well.  That would be a lot of fun.