IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tyler Linderbaum is a center who doesn’t like to be the center of attention. That is a unique approach for a guy who is one of the best at his position in the college game. A game that fuels egos and a me-first mentality when the headlines start piling up.
Linderbaum is a guy who is already on the NFL radar, and in position to add to Iowa’s reputation as a place that turns out top-notch offensive linemen.
"I’m not really interested in what’s going around outside, what the media are saying or other people are saying,” Linderbaum said. “That’s stuff that just doesn’t interest me. And I don’t like focusing on that.”
Listen to Linderbaum talk for a few minutes and you quickly realize this is a small-town guy who is in no hurry to play under the NFL lights. A self-described homebody, Linderbaum lives in a 12-mile comfort zone that stretches from his home town of Solon to Iowa City.
“I enjoy being around family and friends,” said the 6-foot-3-inch, 290-pound junior.
Tyler could have entered the NFL Draft after last season, but never considered filing paperwork. Instead of sweating out who and when might be drafting him starting Thursday, Linderbaum is putting the wraps on Iowa’s 15 spring practices that conclude with a public workout Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“Really, there was not much consideration,” he said of entering the 2021 draft. “I wanted to come back for another year, and possibly two. I wasn’t ready to leave Iowa. I have a lot more to do, a lot to improve on. There was not much discussion with my family and coaches. I was coming back for sure.”
Notice that Linderbaum said a year or two. Coming back for a senior season might not make a lot of financial sense if the first-team all-Big Ten and second-team Associated Press all-American has a big season in 2021.
But this is a young man who loves being a Hawkeye, and loves to compete. He burns to get better, and lives by a mantra preached by former Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan. “Like Coach Morgan always said, “You’ve never arrived,’ ” Linderbaum said. “There’s always things that you can improve on.”
Linderbaum, Iowa’s most valuable player on offense last season, is in no real hurry to hang up that No. 65 black-and-gold jersey for good. And he’s quick to add that age is not a factor in his future plans. He turned 21 earlier this month.
An all-state football player at Solon, Linderbaum also lettered in baseball, wrestling and track and field. He also dabbled in basketball and golf.
“It’s the competition I thrive for,” he said. “I love to compete, I love trying to get better. I try to work on my craft. I’m lucky enough that Iowa gave me an opportunity to come here.”
The son of Lisa and Todd Linderbaum added, “I’ve always been raised and taught that once you put your mind to something, you just attack it and give it your all. You never settle for less. That’s something that has stuck with me.”
Tyler played on both sides of the ball at Solon. And he was recruited by the Iowa staff as a defensive lineman. He played in two games at defensive tackle as a true freshman in 2018, against Northern Illinois and Illinois, while saving his redshirt season.
“When I first got here, I was fortunate in the defensive line to have a bunch of good leaders,” Linderbaum said. “Parker Hesse, Sam Brincks, Matt Nelson, Anthony Nelson, A.J. Epenesa, guys like that. And a good thing for me was learning from them by asking them questions and
soaking up as much information as possible. Because that’s what helps you learn the most. You get feedback from the guys who have played a lot of snaps.”
Two days after the Hawkeyes closed the 2018 regular season with a 31-28 victory against Nebraska, Coach Kirk Ferentz told Linderbaum they wanted to move him to center. That was followed by a crash course in a new position, learning all he could in spring ball and fall drills. More questions, more time in the film room. Because Linderbaum had a new craft to learn.
A little more than nine months after the position change, Linderbaum started at center as Iowa opened the 2019 season with a 38-14 victory against Miami of Ohio.
“He played pretty good in there,” Ferentz said after the game. ”He’s a sharp guy mentally and he handles himself really well on the field.”
Linderbaum became the first Hawkeye to start at center as a freshman since Rafael Eubanks did it against Montana in the 2006 season opener.
That was the first of 21 consecutive starts at center for Linderbaum. Asked if he’s even reflected on how his career might have turned out had he remained on the defensive side of the ball, Linderbaum said it was a tough question to answer.
“It would have been a whole different world,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d be able to do as well on that side of the ball, but I would have given it my best shot.”
Linderbaum has emerged as a leader on the offensive line. Now he’s giving out advice to those who ask for it, just like he did when he played defensive tackle.
“Im just trying to implement that, and try to get these young guys to come along,” Linderbaum said. “And if they have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask.”
Asked again about the NFL Draft, and why he didn’t give it a consideration, Linderbaum’s logic was simply and sound.
‘I just wasn’t ready to leave,” he said.
Instead, he’s pouring his competitive zest into his position, polishing his skills and adding new ones.
“There are always things to improve on,” Linderbaum said. “Pass blocking, run blocking, just understanding the game. The game is changing and there’s more things to learn. Players are changing. So learning from others, learning from my teammates, from defensive players and all that is just something I’m trying to improve on and get better at.”
As Morgan said, you never arrive. And Linderbaum is a portrait of that pursuit of excellence. “Come Saturday, I want to be as prepared as possible, both mentally and physically,” he said.