Some say the multi-sport athlete is dead.
They must not be familiar with Iowa’s starting offensive line.
The first-team unit for the No. 18-ranked Hawkeyes are like The Avengers of multi-sport athletes.
By our calculations, the five current starters (Kyler Schott, Tyler Linderbaum, Tristan Wirfs, Landan Paulsen and Levi Paulsen) combined for an absurd 63 letters in high school across four different sports.
Let’s start with wrestling. All five members of the Hawkeyes’ current offensive line can claim a finish of third place or better in their respective high school state wrestling tournaments. Wirfs and Levi both won heavyweight state championships.
Many of these players faced off on the mat in high school before joining forces in Iowa City.
“It’s certainly a unique situation,” Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek recently told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve walked into the meeting room and caught them messing around, working in their fits like they used to when they were wrestling. They’re Iowa kids. They take a lot of pride in wrestling.”
“The competitive nature, work ethic and mentality of the sport are all prized by football recruiters,” says Mark Branstad, founder and CEO of Tracking Football, a scouting service that helps teams quantify prospects’ athleticism based in part on their results/participation in multiple high school sports.
“In addition, wrestling is a contact sport that teaches leverage and movement skills, which again are necessary traits D1 linemen must possess.”
RELATED: Why Football Players Should Wrestle
Every member of the Hawkeyes’ starting O-line also threw shot put and/or discus in high school.
Starting left tackle Tristan Wirfs, for example, was a three-time state champion in the discus and a two-time state champion in the shot put. His shot put PR of 66’3.5” ranks second all-time in Iowa high school state history.
According to Branstad, 50% of D1 football linemen over the past decade participated in shot/discus in high school, while that figure is roughly 55% for NFL linemen. Legendary offensive linemen like Jonathan Ogden and Joe Thomas were extraordinary shot-putters in their younger days.
This article provides a more thorough explanation of why the sport transfers so well to the trenches, but the Cliffs Notes version is that it requires both tremendous power and nimble, accurate footwork inside a small area. Those exact skills are highly valuable when it comes to line play.
“Throws are performed in a throwing ‘ring’, which is a small area, and it requires power, coordination, timing and raw athletic ability to do it well,” says Branstad.
Additionally, every starter on Iowa’s offensive line also earned at least one letter in high school baseball. Linderbaum earned four letters, spending part of the summer following his senior year training with Iowa’s football team in the morning then playing games with his high school baseball team later that same day.
If you think this is all one big coincidence, think again. Coaches not only love recruiting multi-sport athletes for their versatile athleticism, but also for their competitive fire and ability to adapt to a wide-range of teammates, coaches and athletic challenges. Multi-sport athletes generally have better time-management skills and are less likely to get injured. There’s a reason 88.1% of players selected in the 2019 NFL Draft played multiple sports in high school.
“The value of playing other sports is so underrated. Anybody that I talk to that knows anything about athletics feels the same way,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in 2018.
“The more diverse you can be, the better.”
Photo Credit: Iowa Athletics