By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One of the first things I did after watching the Kids Day practice on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium was call Solon football coach Kevin Miller.
I was eager to share the good news about one of his former players, and I figured that Miller wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Tyler Linderbaum was making a strong impression as a true freshman defensive lineman for the Iowa football team.
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Linderbaum more than held his own in the trenches during Saturday's practice. He was active, showed good instincts and was difficult to block, much like he was for Miller in high school.
“Really, I’m not (surprised) to be honest with you,” Miller said. “Tyler is a competitor. That’s why as a multi-sport athlete he just understands the value of competing on every snap. I’ve coached a lot of kids and he certainly ranks up there as one of those kids who gives consistent effort on an individual daily basis.
“And that’s rare these days to find a kid that can play one-hundred percent one-hundred percent of the time. So he’s rare in that regard.”
This marks the first time in Linderbaum’s life that he isn’t a multi-sport athlete. His entire world now revolves around football and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz couldn’t be happier.
Ferentz doesn’t normally spread it on thick when praising one of his players, especially an unproven true freshman, but he made an exception with Linderbaum on Saturday.
Ferentz praised Linderbaum’s work ethic and his ability to handle multiple responsibilities.
Linderbaum just finished a busy summer in which he played a key role for the Solon baseball team while also training with the Iowa football team and attending summer school at the University of Iowa.
“I’ll throw him a bouquet just for the fact he’s playing baseball and playing well into the year with playoffs and all that kind of stuff,” Ferentz said. “So he was doing that and taking a class and also doing our workout program first thing in the morning at six o’clock.
“So he was getting some miles on his car and he had to sleep here because he was in school. So he impressed us this summer just by doing what he did and juggling that whole schedule. He did a really nice job with it. But it goes back to high school. Pretty much everything Tyler did was quality. Whether it was academically or any sport that he competed in, he did very well at.”
It is unusual for Ferentz to lay the praise on that thick, but he wasn’t finished with his Linderbaum love fest.
In fact, what Ferentz said next about Linderbaum is what really stood out.
“There is a little something to him besides being a good player,” Ferentz said. “There’s something to him. He just kind of makes other people better. We’re only eight days into it, but he’s competing well. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s really doing a nice job.”
I couldn’t begin to guess how many times Ferentz has singled out a true freshman who hasn’t even played in a game yet for having the ability to make others better. But it hasn't happened very often.
That, to me, is the ultimate compliment for somebody who participates in a team sport.
Linderbaum was known for uplifting his teammates in high school, where in addition to football and baseball, he also excelled in wrestling and track and field.
Whatever sport was in season, Linderbaum poured his heart and soul into it.
“If there is an individual who can do it, it certainly is Tyler,” Miller said. “He just understands what it takes just to be an athlete.
“I knew that as soon as he concentrated on just one sport he would really flourish. He’s a kid that understands how to play the game with great tenacity and intensity. It’s rare to find a freshman on the offensive line and defensive line that can be physically ready and mentally and emotionally mature enough to be able to handle the demands of playing against 21- and 22-year olds.”
Linderbaum was unavailable for comment on Saturday because Ferentz prohibits his true freshmen for doing interviews with the media.
But that's probably just fine with Linderbaum because Miller said his former star player doesn't like talking about himself and would rather focus on the team.
"He's always been a team-first guy and a great leader," Miller said.
It’s important to remember that this was just one practice against his own teammates. It would be silly, and unfair to Linderbaum, to make any bold predictions about stardom.
I will make a comparison, though, actually two of them.
Linderbaum reminds me a lot of former Iowa defensive tackles Nathan Bazata and Mitch King with his build and with how he explodes through gaps in the defense and sheds blocks.
We’re talking about a kid who was big and tough enough to dominate in the trenches in high school football, but also nimble enough to play second and third base in baseball.
“You have to be certainly physically ready, but mentally mature enough to handle the demands of a college schedule and the practice schedule,’ Miller said. “It’s different. But I knew by the way he conducted himself here at Solon that he was bound to do special things at Iowa.”
Linderbaum now seems poised to play as a true freshman and his chance could come right away with two of Iowa’s top defensive tackles – Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff – both suspended for the Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
If Saturday’s Kids Day practice is an indication, Linderbaum is up for challenge.