IOWA CITY -- In the Iowa football team’s final tune-up before start of Big Ten play, Tristan Wirfs is ready to put in a full day of work.
He’ll be keeping an eye on Northern Iowa defensive end Rickey Neal, who recorded 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss a year ago.
Last week, he held Iowa State end JaQuan Bailey to four tackles while preventing the Cyclones from recording a single sack of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound sophomore is growing into his role, preparing for the 10th start of his Hawkeye career when Iowa hosts UNI in a 6:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium.
He would have reached that benchmark a week ago, but a one-game suspension following his July arrest on operating while intoxicated charges when the scooter he was driving was pulled over forced Wirfs to watch Iowa’s season-opening win over Northern Illinois on television.
He spent the bulk of that day finishing team-mandated community service work, cleaning up the trash that folks had left behind while attending a FryFest concert the night before in Coralville.
Wirfs had spent the previous week working on the scout team, getting an introduction to the starters on a defensive line that has helped Iowa limit opponents to 199.5 yards on average through two games.
“Those guys are pretty good,’’ Wirfs said. “It was a tough week of work.’’
A tough week, followed by 12 hours of community service work and then having to watch his teammates play a season-opening game on television.
Wirfs watched with a neighbor, an 83-year old man.
They shared some bratwurst and the ebb and flow of a game that Wirfs took himself out of long before it kicked off because of his off-field actions.
“I got what I deserved,’’ Wirfs said. “I made a mistake, I owned up to it and I’ve learned from it.’’
That didn’t make that first game day of the season any easier to watch.
“The guys I live with, they all got some of their first snaps against Northern Illinois,’’ Wirfs said. “Not being there to experience that with them was really tough.’’
Practice the following week proved to be a grind, but Wirfs was ready when the Cy-Hawk Trophy was on the line last weekend at Kinnick Stadium.
His work – and his room to grow – drew praise from coach Kirk Ferentz following the 13-3 victory.
“Wirfs looks like an NFL guy, but he’s still learning how to play up front there and really get the tempo of things on a regular basis,’’ Ferentz said.
Wirfs gets that.
With one more game to play before Wisconsin arrives at Kinnick Stadium for the Big Ten opener, Wirfs looks to improve his run blocking.
He sees that as the next step in his development as part of an offensive line which continues to work to improve as well.
“Our finishes have been really good. We’re finishing people,’’ Wirfs said. “Our effort has been there. There are always going to be assignment errors and stuff. You just have to keep cleaning those up.’’
Wirfs saw progress as Iowa crafted a 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that ran 6 1/2 minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter and helped the Hawkeyes secure the win last week.
“That was big for us. We need to start faster, we all know that, but we were able to move the ball, work the clock and put a team away,’’ Wirfs said. “That is something else that good teams do. We’re learning.’’
After what he’s been through in the past two months, that’s something Wirfs has a definite handle on.
“On the field and in life, you learn from the experiences you have,’’ Wirfs said. “The idea is to take those experiences and use them to benefit you moving forward.’’