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A closer look at the four Hawkeyes in the Super Bowl

Tristan Wirfs will be playing in the Super Bowl in his rookie year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tristan Wirfs will be playing in the Super Bowl in his rookie year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Associated Press)

With the Super Bowl about to start, we thought it would be fun to take a closer look at the four Hawkeyes that will be playing in the big game, how their recruitment came together when they were in high school, their career at Iowa and so far in the NFL, plus a whole lot more.

Starting with the rookie, Tristan Wirfs has been outstanding at right tackle in his first season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Looking back at Wirfs' career at Mount Vernon High School and the University of Iowa, his success in the NFL is no surprise.

At Mount Vernon, Wirfs was not only an Army All-American in football, but also a five-time state champion in track, throwing the shot put and discus, and a state champion wrestler after cutting to 285 pounds his senior year.

During his recruiting, Wirfs earned early scholarship offers from Iowa and Iowa State after his sophomore year of high school and gave the Hawkeyes his verbal commitment as a junior on December 7, 2015. Interestingly, it was a visit to Michigan State just prior to that which actually helped Wirfs make up his mind, as he was not impressed with East Lansing and decided on his way back that he would be staying home and playing for the Hawkeyes.

Once he arrived at Iowa, Wirfs quickly emerged as a starter at right tackle midway through his true freshman year in 2017 and was an anchor on the offensive line for three seasons, finishing his career with 32 starts. As a junior in 2019, Wirfs was named offensive lineman of the year in the Big Ten, earned several first team All-American honors, and was a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy. Following the season, he declared for the NFL Draft.

Since arriving in Tampa, Wirfs has not only started every game at right tackle, but played every snap this season for the Buccaneers. In fact, his most impressive stat is that in 1,280 snaps he has only allowed one sack in his NFL career to date. Pro Football Focus has Wirfs with a grade of 82.0 this season, which is the third highest on Tampa Bay's offense, and best among all the first round rookie tackles including the three drafted before him, which were Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, and Mekhi Becton.

Staying with the Buccaneers, Anthony Nelson is in his second year in Tampa Bay and has developed a role as an edge rusher at outside linebacker, playing in every game this season.

Growing up in Waukee, Nelson was a standout in football and basketball throughout high school. As a senior, he averaged 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, leading Waukee to the state tournament in 2015, and had 51 tackles, 21.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks on the football field as an all-state performer his senior year.

With his father, Jeff, being a former Hawkeye, Anthony was always on Iowa's radar, but it did not lead to an early offer, so he initially committed to Iowa State in the summer of 2014 after his junior year. Following a standout senior season though, the Hawkeyes finally came calling with a scholarship offer in December of 2014 and Nelson officially made the switch to Iowa in early January of 2015.

After redshirting his first year at Iowa to add weight, Nelson hit the ground running in 2016, playing in every game in the rotation at defensive end and had 33 tackles, seven sacks, and eight TFL. Then, the following year, he took over as a starter and led the team with 7.5 sacks in 2017 and topped that with 9.5 sacks in 2018. After earning second-team All-Big Ten honors his junior year, Nelson declared for the NFL Draft.

Nelson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round, the 107th overall of the 2019 NFL Draft. After appearing in nine games and playing 152 snaps his rookie year, Nelson has taken on a bigger role in 2020, playing in every game including one start this season. Including the post-season, he has played 369 snaps and has 20 pressures and two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 69.8 on the year.

Moving over to the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, Anthony Hitchens has been a mainstay at middle linebacker since signing a big contract as a free agent in 2018.

Growing up in Lorain, Ohio, Hitchens was a big time running back in high school, rushing for over 4,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his career at Clearview. As a senior, he was named county football player of the year and competed in basketball and track as well.

During the recruiting process, things developed slowly for Hitchens with Indiana and Kansas being the first to offer and Iowa staying in touch throughout his senior year. Eventually, the Hawkeyes had the two-star prospect on campus for a visit and offered him a scholarship at safety in January of 2010, which led to a commitment just before signing day that year.

Upon arrival at Iowa, Hitchens had an interesting year as a true freshman as he started out at safety, briefly moved to running back, and then found a home at linebacker. That is where he would stay of course, moving into a starting role his junior year and leading the team in tackles in 2012 and 2013. As a senior, Hitchens was named second team All-Big Ten and finished his college career with 270 career tackles.

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Hitchens in the fourth round with the 119th pick overall. In Dallas, he played in every game his first three seasons, first in a reserve role and then developing into a starter. In 2017, Hitchens had his best season as a Cowboy, starting 12 games and finishing with a grade of 73.0 from Pro Football Focus, which led to a five-year, $45 million contract offer from the Chiefs.

A defensive team captain for Kansas City, Hitchens led the team with 135 tackles in 2018 and 88 tackles in 2019. This season, he is second on the team with 78 tackles and has a grade of 52.8 from Pro Football Focus on the year.

As a defensive sub for the Chiefs in passing situations, linebacker Ben Niemann has developed a key role since joining the team in 2018.

Growing up with his father, Jay Niemann, as a college coach, Ben moved around a lot as a kid. A good portion of his youth was spent in Indianola, IA when Jay was coaching at Simpson College, but for high school he was in Sycamore, IL when his dad was the defensive coordinator for Northern Illinois.

At Sycamore, Niemann was mostly known as a wide receiver, finishing his junior year with 53 catches for 884 yards and 13 touchdowns. That led to a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois, where his dad was coaching, and he quickly accepted. Still, Niemann decided to attend Iowa's camp the summer after his junior year where the coaching staff worked him out at outside linebacker, which was a natural fit with his length and athleticism. The camp performance led to a scholarship offer and eventually a commitment as Niemann decided the opportunity to play in the Big Ten was too good to pass up.

After arriving in Iowa City in 2014, Niemann worked his way onto the field as a true freshman, playing in all 13 games in a reserve role. Then, he took over as a starter at outside linebacker in 2015 and stayed there for three years, finishing his career with 201 tackles at Iowa.

An undrafted free agent, Niemann signed with the Chiefs in 2018 and made the roster out of training camp. After playing mostly special teams his first year, he took on the role of dime linebacker in Kansas City's sub package in 2019 and played 483 snaps defensively. This season, Niemann has played even more with 529 defensive snaps and has 44 tackles and a grade of 49.1 from Pro Football Focus this year.

The Super Bowl kicks off at 5:30 PM CT on CBS on Sunday.