Big bookends ready to turn the page
University of Iowa’s young tackles seek to overcome offseason struggles
IOWA CITY — Sophomores Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs each possess the potential to finish their University of Iowa football careers ranked among the best tackles the lineman-rich Hawkeyes have ever produced.
They’ve just got to stay out of trouble.
Jackson, who was suspended for last season’s Pinstripe Bowl for breaking team rules, will miss his second straight game on Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois for what coach Kirk Ferentz said was a violation of team policy. Wirfs won’t play against the Huskies either after being charged with drunk driving on July 29.
Defensive tackles Brady Reiff (public intoxication) and Cedrick Lattimore (team rules) will also be suspended for the opener. But Ferentz said Friday at the team’s annual media day that he’s optimistic that each of those four incidents will wind up being “a blip on the radar” as far as those player’s careers are concerned.
“I think most of the things that happened are things that happen on college campuses across the country, and anybody that’s a parent, those are things you worry about,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary going on, nothing alarming in my mind. But there are things that have to be addressed, and we do have clearly stated expectations that we expect everybody to abide by.”
Every team in America says it prides itself on being physical up front. But it’s a special emphasis at Iowa, which has sent scores of linemen to the NFL under Ferentz, a longtime line coach with Cleveland and Baltimore.
The Hawkeyes will likely struggle unless Jackson and Wirfs — who got unexpectedly early playing time in 2017 after injuries to since-departed seniors Boone Myers and Ike Boettger — stay healthy and in the coaching staff’s good graces.
Jackson, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds, was the only Iowa lineman to start all 12 regular season games at the same spot, left tackle, a year ago.
Jackson is considered raw but with plenty of potential, and the fact that Ferentz felt comfortable enough to put him in charge of protecting quarterback Nate Stanley’s blind side in his first season spoke volumes of how much the staff thinks of his potential.
Ferentz said in announcing Jackson’s suspension that his issue, which isn’t a legal matter, popped up in the spring. Ferentz added that Jackson and Lattimore were given guidelines to meet and that their responses have been “excellent.”
“It’s like any player on our football team. Everybody has got a resume that they’re building, and they’re either adding to it or taking away from it,” Ferentz said. “I think Alaric is a tremendous young man, and I’m very hopeful that he’s going to have a great career here,” Ferentz said.
Wirfs is perhaps the most promising lineman the Hawkeyes have landed from their own state in quite some time.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Wirfs did it all for nearby Mount Vernon High, winning state titles in wrestling, shot put and the discus in addition to leading the football team to the state championship game. Last season Wirfs became the first true freshman to ever start at tackle for Ferentz, and he was one of just two newcomers to land on the team’s vaunted leadership group.
“It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing. I feel like I let a lot of people down,” Wirfs said in his first public comments since his arrest. “You just want to put it behind you and…move past it. My mom says that there’s greener grass ahead. Just keep moving forward.”
2018 Iowa Football Schedule
Sept. 1 NO. ILLINOIS, 2:30 p.m. (BTN)
Sept. 8 IOWA ST., 4 p.m. (FOX)
Sept. 15 UNI, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Sept. 22 WISCONSIN
Oct. 6 at Minnesota
Oct. 13 at Indiana, 11 a.m. (ABC/ESPN)
Oct. 20 MARYLAND, 11 a.m.
Oct. 27 at Penn St.
Nov. 3 at Purdue
Nov. 10 NORTHWESTERN
Nov. 17 at Illinois
Nov. 23 NEBRASKA, 11 a.m. (FOX)