IOWA CITY — Brandon Scherff wanted to play quarterback. He also wanted to run the fast break. He wanted to pitch. He wanted his God-given power in the shot put. He wanted to play tennis like his older brother.
Scherff lived the life in Denison, a town of 8,000 in western Iowa. He played all the sports, hunted all the game and fished all the fish.
The fact that he was a boy-giant didn’t seem to get in the way.
Dave Wiebers was the Denison High School football coach during Scherff’s days. Wiebers went to the Wisconsin game last weekend. His son watched from home and called to inform him that he was a topic during the ABC telecast.
“Some of the commentators asked, ‘Who was the coach who played Brandon Scherff at quarterback?’” Wiebers said with a laugh. “My son got a kick out of that. The truth is he was our best quarterback.”
Then, Scherff was 6-5 and somewhere between 270 and 300 pounds. When he reported to Iowa in the summer of 2010, Scherff said he weighed 324 pounds. As a junior offensive tackle for the Hawkeyes this season, he lines up at 315.
Scherff was a big guy doing little guy things.
On the basketball court, Scherff averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds his senior year. Of course, he cradled every rebound that went within 10 yards of him, but from there, he wanted to trigger the fast break.
“He was a post player who wanted to be a guard,” said Don Lyons, who was Denison’s basketball coach at the time. “When Brandon got a rebound, sometimes Brandon was going to go coast-to-coast. The biggest problem was if anyone was in his way, they were going to get run over.”
Lyons said Scherff was the second quickest player on his team, second only to the point guard. In the “triple touch” drill, Scherff glided past and around teammates.
Scherff started at quarterback for Denison his sophomore year and threw for 1,200 yards. This is when Iowa started to engage him in recruiting. Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan then was Iowa’s offensive line coach and handled Scherff’s recruitment. The idea always was offensive line.
“The thing about him, he just kind of morphed in front of our eyes,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We started to get to know him in 10th grade, and every time he would show up here it seemed like he was 10 pounds bigger. He went from being a quarterback, which I’m still not buying that, to a tight end, a big tight end, and then obviously we projected him inside.”
Midway through his junior year, Scherff moved to tight end. He moved to offensive and defensive line his senior year, so, no, Scherff didn’t lose the job to Ricky Torres, who took over at QB for Denison. When Scherff started to break through into the starting lineup last season as a sophomore, former Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said, “He can throw. He looks like he might be able to pop the ball in his hands.”
Scherff was blessed with the essential and accidental genetics. Colleges started calling and Scherff knew where it was headed.
“My mom’s family is pretty tall,” said Scherff, when asked where his size came from. “My dad’s a big guy, so probably that.”
When asked about the generous, bountiful gift of heredity from parents Cindy and Bob, Scherff said, “I’m not complaining.”
You could argue Scherff was right-sized for baseball. Pitchers are generally big dudes. But even there, Scherff put a twist on appearances. He had a decent 85 mph fastball, but his killer pitch was a curveball that broke a foot (he called it a half curve, half slider).
“You looked at the guy, he’s 6-5, very imposing,” Lyons said. “Everyone thought he’d throw 95 mph because of how big he was, but he made the ball move a foot. He could beat the best.”
Of course, Scherff could hit. Denison played at the Creighton Sports Complex during Scherff’s junior season.
“He hit the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit,” Lyons said. “He hit it dead center over the 400 feet sign. He hit it over that sign. And then there’s a grass area before it gets to the street there, and he landed it on the street. It didn’t even hit the grass.”
Scherff’s older brother, Justin, was a top-flight tennis player who ended up playing at Central
College. So, of course, Brandon had to try that, too.
“My freshman year, I went from track to tennis to baseball practice,” said Scherff, who was a state champion in the Class 3A shot put his sophomore year.
Iowa had a lot to work with in Scherff. The re-shaping of his body started immediately. The 315 pounds he carries now is solid. The widest part of Scherff’s body is his shoulders. This summer, Scherff set an Iowa weight room record in the hang clean with a lift of 410 pounds (actually, he did it three times).
“There’s no question he’s an athlete,” Iowa center Austin Blythe said. “You see him in the weight room, you see him in the drills that he does. He’s that kind of guy. He’s got the gifts and he’s doing a great job using what he’s got.”
At Denison, Scherff was a big guy doing little guy things. At Iowa, he has become a big, strong offensive lineman doing what it takes to have his name mentioned by NFL draft media.
Iowa’s Oct. 26 game against Northwester was when the NFL winds picked up. The game was broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Former Minnesota coach Glen Mason was the color analyst. He raved. Two days later, Scherff’s name showed up on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s “Big Board,” coming in at No. 24.
“He’s particularly special as a run-blocker because he will drive a defensive end to the second level and finish his block,” Kiper wrote. “He’s got that nastiness when he gets a defender locked up and can also move in space and hit a moving target.”
Scherff has a year left at Iowa after this season, his second as a starter at left tackle. He knows the fleeting nature of health in football. Last season, he suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle and missed the last five games. He has had pain in the lower leg that has forced him to miss some downs earlier this year.
He knows what’s at stake. He also happens to enjoy the state of Iowa, where he hunts and fishes whenever he can (he netted a 40-pound catfish this summer in Montezuma and can tell you what game is in season without a pause).
Scherff, who’ll be 22 in December, and Ferentz have discussed the NFL topic. Iowa is in week 10 of this season, so Scherff didn’t want to dive into the topic too deeply.
“You really can’t focus on that,” he said. “You have to let the season play out. You have to put that aside and don’t worry about that at all.”
Wiebers said Bob and Cindy Scherff have worked perspective into Brandon’s personality. When he comes home for Christmas or summer break, he works at the high school, mowing and whacking weeds around the grounds. Last summer, he accidentally backed the mower into the baseball cage and left a giant hole in the tarp.
“He just wasn’t driving the tractor too straight,” Lyons said with a laugh. “He has a way of lightening the mood, has a lot of kid in him.”
Do you want to know where performance enhancement comes from in Denison? It comes from hauling trees at the Evergreen Acres Christmas Tree Farm, something Scherff did through high school and, as far as Lyons knew, he still does on Christmas break.
“It’s kind of like Paul Bunyan,” Lyons said. “When you want your Christmas tree, Brandon is going to bring it in for you.”
It doesn’t get any bigger than that.