By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football team held its first weekly press conference of the 2021 season on Tuesday, and for junior center Tyler Linderbaum, it was welcome to the spotlight
Linderbaum was among a handful of Iowa players that met with reporters in preparation for Saturday’s much-anticipated season opener against No. 17 Indiana at Kinnick Stadium.
The Solon native arrived about midway through the player interviews and then answered all sorts of questions about himself, about his team, and about anything else that came up.
Linderbaum was surrounded by multiple media members from start to finish.
The press conference was nearly over, and yet, Linderbaum still had eight reporters probing him for information until the very end.
It was the kind of attention that is more typical for a starting quarterback, or a star running back than for a center.
The center position is extremely important, but most centers perform with little notice or hype, even the good ones.
Iowa has had some real good centers under Kirk Ferentz, from Bruce Nelson to Rafael Eubanks to Austin Blythe to James Ferentz to James Daniels, center has often been a position of strength for the Hawkeyes.
But Linderbaum has lifted the bar to a higher level, and whether he likes it or not, the media, both local and national, seems fascinated with his improbable ascent to stardom.
National college football writer Ivan Maisel, who currently works for On.3.com, after having previously been with Sports Illustrated and ESPN, was among those who attended Tuesday’s press conference.
It was clear right away that Maisel was working on a story about Linderbaum as Maisel asked numerous Iowa players about their star center, and if they could give an example of what makes Linderbaum so special, maybe something he did in practice.
Iowa’s other star Tyler, junior running back Tyler Goodson, shared this little nugget.
“The best thing I’ve seen from him is probably him taking a guy, a linebacker, ten yards down the field and putting him on his back,” Goodson said to Maisel. “He does that quite often, though. So at this point, it’s not shocking to me.”
Another Linderbaum moment happened in last season’s 28-7 victory over Wisconsin when he helped to escort Goodson to the end zone on an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Linderbaum didn’t slow down until Goodson has crossed the goal line, and the legend of Tyler Linderbaum started to grow from that moment.
It seems fair to call Linderbaum’s ascent to stardom improbable, considering he came to Iowa as a defensive tackle, and with just three scholarship offers, including one from Minnesota State.
The decision to move Linderbaum to center near the end of his freshman season in 2018 was a stroke of genius, maybe the best position switch to occur under Kirk Ferentz, and that’s saying a lot.
Kirk Ferentz, not surprisingly, was asked about his all-everything center during Tuesday’s press conference.
Ferentz didn’t share any stories about Linderbaum manhandling a defender, but rather focused on Linderbaum’s meticulous approach and his consistency.
Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell also said to the media on Tuesday that Linderbaum is the most consistent player he has ever seen, and Kirk Ferentz was asked about that at his press conference about two hours later.
“Consistency is one of the first things you think about,” Ferentz said of Linderbaum. “Not only as a player, but just as a person. He is the same guy every day. At least he presents himself that way. And whether you see him in the building here or out on the field, there’s just a real consistency about him. And he certainly carries that over to the way he practices.
“And I told a couple of the NFL guys that have been coming through, I can’t remember him having a bad moment during spring practice. That’s unusual. He is steady and quality. And part of that, though, he’s a competitive guy. And he takes a lot of pride in what he does. Those are two common traits of outstanding players, at least the ones I’ve been around, despite whatever personality they may possess; those are two traits that most really good players have.”
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That is high praise from a head coach who has been around college and NFL football players for most of his life.
Linderbaum is like a coach’s dream, great on the field, in practice, in the locker room, and in team meetings.
He is low-maintenance, and always focused on just getting better, moment by moment.
And while Linderbaum enjoys his rise to stardom, he doesn’t seem pre-occupied with building his brand, or with basking in the spotlight.
He just wants to play football, win games and be a good teammate.
Linderbaum was asked to update his status with Name, Image and Likeness, but there wasn’t much to update.
“It’s not something I’m focused on,” Linderbaum. “As NIL goes, you learn more about it. But it’s not something I’m interested in yet.”
Linderbaum’s answer about NIL didn’t surprise his head coach.
“He’s totally unaffected by that,” Kirk Ferentz said. “With all due respect to the NIL he could care less. He’s just not interested in that. He’s focused on what he does and what he’s trying to be good at. And that doesn’t mean you can’t do both, I’m not suggesting that. But that’s just how he thinks.
“And I think people I’ve been around in my life that have been really good at what they do, they have an ability to focus in on things that they’re trying to do and do well. And he certainly is in that category. He just doesn’t listen to a lot or doesn’t pay attention to a lot. Just kind of pays attention to what’s important to him.”
His role as a football player is what’s important to Linderbaum, and with or without Name, Image and Likeness, he figures to make a lot of money in the NFL some day.
But that’s another topic that Linderbaum has little interest in discussing right now because he doesn’t want to be distracted from the task at hand.
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras has the luxury of playing behind arguably the best center in college football.
He and Linderbaum also are close friends and roommates.
“It helps a lot,” Petras said. “From a football standpoint, I would say he’s probably the most experienced guy on the field at this point offensively. He’s really smart. He’s really talented. The things he can do with our offensive line, and the direction he gives them, whether it’s his call or his leadership, that’s just a huge asset
“And then just the kind of guy he is, and him being in front of me, and one of my best friends, that’s just kind of a safety blanket for my emotions a little bit.”
Linderbaum takes great pride in being a leader, by example, and vocally if he feels that it’s needed.
The Iowa program has been through its share of adversity over the last year or so, including the racial unrest from last summer when multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities.
Iowa then started 0-2 last season, and it was easy to assume that the team was divided and in danger of unraveling.
But Linderbaum and his cohorts rallied to win six straight games, and did so by staying unified, and by staying focused on the next challenge.
“I think a big thing is just upholding the team’s standards that we have in place, and just being the guy that sets the example, and if see teammates not playing to those standards, then step in and saying something because you want to get everyone on the same page,” Linderbaum said.
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Linderbaum was a multi-sport star in high school, switching seemlessly from football to wrestling to track and field to baseball.
He pitched, played first base, third base, and even second base on a rare occasion in baseball despite his size.
Linderbaum was so committed to his high school baseball team that he played as a senior in the summer of 2018 despite having already started summer workouts as an incoming Iowa freshman.
“Our freshman summer he was still playing baseball and I went out there with a couple of my teammates, I think for one or two games, and I saw him rope one to the outfield one time,” Petras said. I think he pitched, too.
“I never saw him play second. That’s kind of a unique deal.”
Linderbaum is unique, the kind of player that Iowa searches long and hard for, and yet, he grew up about 15 minutes from campus with the dream of being a Hawkeye.
And now he’s the center of attention.