Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs looks to pay back his mother’s sacrifices with NFL success

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis
Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs is expected to be one of the first two offensive linemen picked in the upcoming NFL draft.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

Tristan Wirfs spent the first five years of his life living in a trailer park in tiny Mt. Vernon, Iowa, with his mother, grandmother and eventually a younger sister.

The family moved into a house by the time Wirfs started kindergarten, but keeping Tristan fed — no small task for a boy who grew into a 6-foot-5, 320-pound mountain of a man — and equipped for sports was a challenge for his single mother, Sarah, who has worked at a Target store for the last 28 years.


“I’d see her on the phone with her sister and she’d be crying about stuff — bills, the new baseball bat, glove and cleats she’d have to buy,” Wirfs, the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year at Iowa in 2019, said at the recent NFL combine.

“As a kid, you don’t notice that, but as I got older, I figured it out. I didn’t want to let [her sacrifices] go to waste. It became a big part of the motivation for me in sports. I love her more than she knows, and getting to hopefully pay that back to her some day would mean a lot.”

Payback day is nigh. Wirfs, with his blend of brute strength, athleticism and technique, is expected to be one of the first two offensive linemen picked in the NFL draft, an honor that could net the right tackle an eight-figure rookie contract and his mother an early retirement.

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

April 17, 2020

“I don’t know if she would stop working,” Wirfs said. “She’s a pretty hard-working person, and I think I got my work ethic from her, 100%.”

In addition to his high school football dominance, Wirfs was a two-time state champion in the shot put and three-time in the discus throw, a state wrestling champion his senior year and a pitcher/first baseman on the baseball team.


He established himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the country as a three-year starter at Iowa and improved his NFL stock at the combine, where his 10-foot-1 broad jump tied the all-time record for his position and his 36.5-inch vertical leap and 4.85-second 40-yard dash were the best at his spot.

Wirfs beat Brandon Scherff’s Iowa school record in the hang-clean lift, completing four reps at 450 pounds, one more than Scherff, the current Washington Redskins standout.

“He’s a weight-room monster,” analyst Lance Zierlein wrote of Wirfs. “He can squat a bus.”

Wirfs is an explosive drive blocker who was credited with 14 “pancake” blocks against Nebraska last fall. He has the speed to pull on outside running plays and the quick feet, agility and hand strength to protect the quarterback, though he tends to open up in his pass sets at times. About the only knock on Wirfs is he seems to lack a killer instinct.

Ready for a different kind of NFL mock draft? Football experts join Times NFL writer Sam Farmer to predict the first round of the 2020 draft.

April 15, 2020

“Some teams want to see me get meaner,” Wirfs said. “I’ve been hearing that for I don’t know how long.”

How does he become meaner on a football field?

“You tell me, I don’t know,” Wirfs said. “I’ve never really been a mean person. That’s a testament to my mom and how she raised me.”