IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tristan Wirfs casts a long shadow and not just because of his 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame.
Even as a child, Wirfs was always the biggest and best athlete on the field. It’s why Jacob Coons remembers Wirfs joining his Solon youth baseball team for a game in fourth or fifth grade.
“He wore our coach’s jersey because we had no jersey that could fit him,” Coons said.
This is the first encounter both remember, two star athletes growing up about 10 miles apart in rival Iowa towns. It was the start of what became a great friendship between the two 2017 Iowa football signees.
“We are pretty close,” said Wirfs, an offensive lineman and 247Sports’ No. 2-rated prospect in Iowa. “Growing up together, playing against each other, we joke around. We have a good time.”
Two of a kind
They get along because they are so similar. Each is outgoing and funny, and each brings a contagious personality to any party. Coons calls Wirfs goofier. Coons is a little more reserved, but his personality comes once he’s comfortable.
“It’s so easy to get along with (Wirfs),” Coons said.
It wasn’t always that way.
They butted heads as kids. Coons was the best athlete in Solon, Wirfs was the top dog in Mount Vernon. They always cross paths in baseball or football. Wirfs joining Coon’s baseball team the few times it needed a player didn’t change things.
“He was taller than everybody and so when we were up to bat I think it was a challenge,” Wirfs said. “Let’s see who could hit it harder.”
Coons admits it was a scary stepping into the batter’s box against Wirfs. He was an elementary school kid who looked like he should be in middle school and threw an Aroldis Chapman-like fastball.
It didn’t stop him from trying to get the best of Wirfs, their relationship remaining more rivalry than friendship until high school.
“You would know who he is and you would go right at him,” Coons said. “You know he would bring his best and you would need to bring your best.”
Their best landed them at an Iowa football camp their sophomore year of high school. Iowa staffers led Wirfs, an eventual 4-star prospect, and Coons, an eventual 3-star prospect, to meet with head coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes offered each a scholarship and soon after the rivals started becoming friends.
They started talking to each other. They bumped into one another at Iowa recruiting tailgate functions during the summer. Coons and Wirfs started to see each other not just as players who wore a different color football jersey, but as people.
“We’ve always been rivals so it was cool to talk to him outside of a sporting event and get to know him,” Coons said. “He’s pretty cool. He was not as mean as I thought he was going to be.”
Both committed in December 2015, Wirfs going first and helping spur Coons to commit five days later, before Iowa left for the Rose Bowl.
They constantly text, hang out at Burger King after attending Iowa football practices and pal around at high school track meets.
Their changing relationship brought an end to their Cold War-type vibe in sports by the time Coons and Solon beat Wirfs and Mount Vernon 26-21 last September.
“It was really cool because that was like the first kid I blocked that was another kid going D-I,” Wirfs said. “We were battling. It was pretty fun.”
Their first encounter
Now, the two met about a year or two before playing baseball together. It’s due, in part, to what Dan Coons, a Solon assistant football coach, calls bad coaching on his end.
Before Solon faced Mount Vernon in flag football, he taught his son the finer points of blocking. It didn’t matter if this was a no-tackle league — his son needed to know how to block downfield for a teammate trying to find the end zone.
Dan Coons watched as Wirfs headed toward the sideline when out of nowhere a Solon player plowed into him from behind.
“I never told Jake you have to block him in the front,” he said. “I am trying to hide on the other side of the field.”
The Mount Vernon fans erupted but all was fine. No damage done, their future friendship still possible.