an By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – May 1, 2017 was a productive day for the Iowa football team as that was the day Tyler Linderbaum committed to the Hawkeyes.
It wasn’t big news outside of the state of Iowa because Linderbaum was an unheralded recruit on the national stage. The Solon native had just three scholarship offers from Iowa, Iowa State and Minnesota State.
He also was kind of short for a defensive tackle, listed at just 6-foot-2 coming out of high school.
The fact that he picked Iowa hardly came as a surprise since Linderbaum grew up about 10 miles from the University of Iowa campus, and was a Hawkeye fan like practically everyone else in Solon.
But I still vividly remember writing the article about Linderbaum’s commitment, mostly because of something his high school football coach said during our interview.
Kevin Miller was Solon’s football coach at the time, and he was talking about Linderbaum’s ability as a defensive tackle when he veered off course to share this little nugget:
“I know the plan is for him to play defense, and I think he has a bright future on that side of the ball because of his ability, and because of how hard he works, and he wants to be great,” Miller said. “But I also think he could be an outstanding center.
“He has everything you want in a center; talent, toughness and intelligence, and he loves to compete, just loves to compete, and is a great leader, one of the best I’ve ever had, a natural leader.”
To say that Miller’s quote has aged well over the past four years would be an understatement.
It seemed that Miller, who retired from coaching in 2020, might have been laying it on a little thick as many proud high school head coaches so often do when one of their players makes a commitment.
But Miller’s evaluation of Linderbaum’s potential as a center was spot on.
It was almost as if Miller was staring into a crystal ball, considering Linderbaum is now considered the top center in college football, and maybe the top offensive lineman overall.
Everything that Miller said in that interview has proven to be true.
“He’s had a big impact on me,” Linderbaum said of Miller. “He obviously knows me the best of a lot coaches in high school from just being my head coach and what not.
“I played center in high school, so he was around me all the time. So he saw some of the things that I could do.”
Linderbaum made those remarks about Miller while representing Iowa at Big Ten Media Day last Friday in Indianapolis. Linderbaum was one of three players to represent Iowa at the annual event, along with receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr., and defensive end Zach VanValkenburg.
I asked Linderbaum the question about Miller’s opinion of him as a center from four years ago because rarely in all my years of covering Iowa football has a high school head coach been so accurate about a player’s potential to play a position for which he wasn’t being recruited.
Linderbaum was obviously a quality defensive lineman or Iowa wouldn’t have offered him a scholarship. He played defensive tackle throughout the regular season as a true freshman at Iowa in 2018 before switching to center during preparation for the 2019 Outback Bowl against Mississippi State.
I immediately thought of my interview with Miller upon hearing that Linderbaum had switched to center.
“When I got here to Iowa, it was in the talks, but never really happened until, obviously, bowl prep,” Linderbaum said of moving to center.
When asked if he was a better center or defensive tackle in high school, Linderbaum’s answer was surprising to say the least.
“I’d like to say I was pretty balanced,” Linderbaum said. “I don’t know. I think I was probably a better D tackle, just a lot of offensive line is a lot of technique stuff. It’s harder in high school just because you’re not taught as much as you are at the college level.
“But I enjoyed playing both positions.”
Linderbaum also enjoyed playing multiple sports in high school as he was also a star wrestler, and a standout in baseball in track.
A testimony to his athleticism is that he played second base a few times in high school despite his size.
Linderbaum also chose to play his senior year of baseball in the summer of 2018 despite having already started his summer conditioning program with the Iowa football team. He would train with his future college teammates in the morning and then practice or play high school baseball games at night.
“I just want to finish what I started with these guys,” Linderbaum said at the time, referring to his high school baseball teammates. “They mean a lot to me. High school has meant a lot to me.”
Linderbaum’s commitment to his high school baseball team made quite an impression on Kirk Ferentz.
Ferentz could’ve pressure Linderbaum to focus solely on his new career as a Hawkeye, but Ferentz supported Linderbaum’s decision to play baseball and praised him for being loyal and committed.
“He grew up with his teammates and wants to finish what he started with them, and I admire him for that,” Ferentz said in 2018. “It says a lot about his work ethic and his loyalty.”
Linderbaum credits his upbringing in Solon for helping to keep him humble and hungry. His parents, Todd and Lisa, along with older brother Logan, all have played a key role in helping to shape his character and showing the value of hard work.
“I was surrounded by a lot of good people in Solon that’s helped me and kept met grounded,” Linderbaum said. “I talked earlier about coaches and my parents setting a good example for me right away,” I had great friends at Solon that made sure my head wasn’t getting too big, which awesome.
“So having friends and family and people like that is very important, and I think it’s helped me out.”
The lessons that Linderbaum learned while growing up in Solon are now helping to keep his rise to stardom as a Hawkeye in perspective.
He earned All-America accolades last season, and is on everyone’s preseason All-America team for this coming season.
“A big thing for me is a reminder it’s just the preseason,” Linderbaum said. “We haven’t even played a game, haven’t done anything yet.
“Maybe if it’s after the season and I’m getting these accolades, then that’s something cool and pretty special. But no one remembers what your preseason accolades were. It’s all about how you do during the season and after.”