By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tristan Wirfs once told me that the best thing about being an Iowa football player is that it meant being around the best people.
From his coaches to his teammates to the support staff to the fans, Wirfs loved everything about being a Hawkeye.
He grew up just a few miles north of the University of Iowa campus in Mount Vernon and dreamed of being an Iowa football player.
He dreamed of playing for Kirk Ferentz, and would picture himself taking the field at Kinnick Stadium as part of Iowa’s beloved swarm.
So it would take something incredibly rare and special for Wirfs to end that dream before it was over, and the chance to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft would certainly fit that description.
Wirfs’ announcement on Tuesday that he was declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft as a junior hardly came as a surprise, because much like his Iowa teammate, A.J. Epenesa, there was nothing left for Wirfs to prove as a Hawkeye.
In just three seasons, Wirfs developed into one of the best offensive linemen in college football. The 6-foot-5, 322-pounder became a starter as a true freshman and just kept getting better.
Wirfs helped Iowa win 27 games over three seasons, along with three bowl games.
He also became a weightlifting legend, and his enormous strength has helped to fuel Wirfs’ greatness on the playing field.
He was a multi-sport star in high school, but now his only focus is football, so all that talent and versatility is being channeled in the same direction, and the results have been staggering.
The other thing about Tristan Wirfs that is worth mentioning is that he just seems like a good guy.
It would be easy for somebody like Wirfs to be self-absorbed, and to feel self-entitled, because he almost always has been the biggest and the best at what he does.
But that’s just not Tristan Wirfs.
I was around him enough at Iowa to realize that.
The team always came first with Wirfs, and he was always polite and respectful.
One moment that stands out to me happened the day before the Holiday Bowl when the Iowa players were walking through their hotel lobby on the way to lunch I would presume since it was right before noon in San Diego.
I was sitting in a chair in the lobby and most of the players didn’t even notice me, while some looked over and had no reaction.
Wirfs, on the other hand, looked over and acknowledged me with a slight grin and a bow of his head.
It was a moment that barely lasted for one second, but I remember thinking how cool it was that Wirfs made the effort to acknowledge me.
I wasn’t offended by those who had no reaction because most of them probably didn’t even know me.
Wirfs knew me from having been interviewed so many times, and he made the effort to acknowledge me simply because he’s a nice person.
Another moment that stood out was at media day in 2018 when Wirfs faced the media after having recently been charged with drunken driving.
He was remorseful, accountable and determined to learn from his mistake.
It seems obvious now that Wirfs’ drunken driving charge was an isolated incident, a momentary lapse in judgment by a young man who has spent his entire life almost always making the right decisions.
The decision to leave early for the NFL is another right decision by Wirfs because the life-changing money that he is about to earn is just too good to pass up.
Playing football at the highest level is a dangerous and violent race against time, and it’s time for Wirfs to begin that race.