Scouting Combine Offensive Tackles: Thomas, Wills and Wirfs
Part 3 of our three-part preview of the offensive tackles includes three All-Americans, the son of a longtime NFL star and two players with basketball backgrounds.
Jon Runyan, Michigan (6-5, 321): Runyan started at left tackle as a junior and senior, earning first-team all-Big Ten in both seasons. He was a two-time recipient of the Hugh H. Rader Memorial Award given to the team’s top offensive lineman.
If you recognize the name, yes, he’s the son of former NFL standout Jon Runyan. A fourth-round pick in 1996, the elder Runyan started 192 games in 13 seasons. The younger Runyan was merely a three-star recruit. He had the name but did he have the game? "Five years ago, we were here in Orlando, practicing at the same high school, West Orange, and I can remember my mind-set then and how miserable I thought I was,” Runyan told the school athletics site ahead of this year’s Citrus Bowl. “I was just trying to get through practices. And now I have this whole new appreciation and vitality, looking back at what I've accomplished since then. It's something I'm really proud of. I don't think many people have had the full-circle experience I've had. This is where I started and where I'll finish.” He moved into the starting lineup in 2018 but it wasn’t as if a legend had been born in his debut against Notre Dame. “It was difficult, there were people coming after me from all angles,” Runyan told the school newspaper. “For two or three weeks after the Notre Dame game, I put my phone down and took (social media) off my phone and tried not to pay attention to it.” Runyan has fond memories of being with his father during his time with the Eagles. "I remember whenever I was with him, getting groceries or going to Home Depot or whatever, people would recognize him," he told the Philly Inquirer. "I thought it was awesome that my dad was this big public figure. I looked up to him a lot and just hoped that I could somewhat be like him someday.” There was no pressure from Dad on where to go to college. Well, sort of. As his dad told the Detroit News: "I told him, 'You can go anywhere you want to, just not Ohio State,'”
Terence Steele, Texas Tech (6-6, 310): Steele started 47 games in four seasons, with 10 starts at left tackle as a freshman and the rest of his starts coming on the right side. He was an honorable mention on the all-Big 12 team as a junior and senior and a captain for both of those seasons.
Steele went to Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas. College recruiters took notice when he was a junior – even though he wasn’t good enough to start. “The season before that, I wasn’t feeling very agile, strong,” Steele told the Express News. “I didn’t feel like I was a DI-level athlete. So I changed my body.” The changes came during workouts with his stepfather, an Army veteran who lost the leg above the knee following a helicopter crash in Iraq. He dropped 50 pounds during those workouts. He missed two games to start the season due to an upper-body injury sustained in June. "I was definitely way ahead of schedule," Steele told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal after returning to the lineup. "When it first happened, it was about four to six months (of projected recovery), just letting my body heal pretty much. But we've got a great strength staff and a sports medicine staff, and they got me back to being a hundred percent pretty quick."
Alex Taylor, South Carolina State (6-8, 308): Taylor was a first-team all-MEAC selection as a senior in helping the Bulldogs to a share of the conference title. He was named the league’s offensive lineman of the week five times.
At Moncks Corner (S.C.) High School, Taylor was a basketball player. He didn’t play football until his junior year at Moncks Corner. He played in only 17 games in his high school career. In 2015, he redshirted at Appalachian State. When his position coach left, Taylor left, too. He went to South Carolina State – and returned to basketball. "I had it in my mind. Basketball was always the first sport I played,” Taylor told WIS-TV. “I always wanted to give it a shot.” In the 2017-18 season, he played off the bench in 28 games. “I ended up catching my niche in football,” Taylor told AL.com at the Senior Bowl. “I’m still young to the game, I’m still learning it. But I found a home here. The footwork in basketball definitely helped me a lot. As an O-lineman, you need your feet more than anything. That’s a big thing.” His father played college football at Presbyterian. An uncle, Pierson Prioleau, played defensive back in 160 games in 12 NFL seasons.
Andrew Thomas, Georgia* (6-5, 320): Thomas was a Freshman All-American in 2017 and a first-team All-American in his final two seasons. In 2019, he won the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference’s best offensive lineman. He was the first Bulldog blocker to win the award in 21 years. According to PFF, he was an elite performer in an elite conference.
A native of Lithonia, Ga., he was coached at Pace Academy by former NFL linebacker Chris Slade. At Pace, Slade gave Thomas an ultimatum: Either play football or play the drums in the band. It was a tough choice. Thomas learned to play the drums at an early age; his father played the drums in the church band where Thomas’ grandfather is a preacher. “He said that day the lightbulb turned on,” Slade said. “That's when it all kind of started for him.” At age 18, he was the youngest starter in the national championship game against Alabama that was played on Jan. 8, 2018. “He’s got arms that stretch a country mile,” guard Ben Cleveland said. In March, he was among a select group of players invited to the NCAA Elite Football Symposium. The symposium, held at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, provides guidance to elite undergraduates on how to properly prepare for the NFL and transition to life in the league.
Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn (6-7, 305): Wanogho started 32 games at left tackle, earning all-SEC second-team honors as a senior.
Wanogho is from Warri, Nigeria. As you might imagine, he has an incredible path to the draft. He participated in basketball camp several hours from his home. The film caught the eye of Todd Taylor, an assistant basketball coach at Edgewood Academy in Montgomery, Ala. Wanogho was offered a scholarship to Edgewood and moved to the United States and into Taylor’s home for what would be his senior year of high school. "It was exciting," Wanogho said of leaving home in a story at ESPN.com. "I was ready for a new adventure. But, then again, as soon as I got in the plane I got low. I started thinking about my sisters, my mom. I'm leaving everybody.” The goal was simple, though. “I was going to be the next LeBron James,” Wanogho told AL.com. “I can dunk the ball, though. I can’t shoot, but I can rebound and dunk the ball, for real. That was just the goal, that was just my plan.” The football coach at Edgewood encouraged Wanogho to try the sport, if for no other reason than it would get him in shape for the upcoming basketball season. Nonetheless, with barely any experience, scholarship offers began flooding in from numerous big-time football programs. When he broke his leg playing basketball in January, the choice in sports for college – and how he’d make his family’s life better – essentially had been made. "There's all types of violence over there, and you never know," Wanogho told NFL.com. "You don't know what people are thinking, what they are planning. That's what scares me over there. I try to advise them to stay on the low, do nothing out of the ordinary, not to act like you've arrived at something, and be vigilant of their surroundings. That's my advice to them every time I talk to them." He graduated in 2018. He has eight siblings.
Jedrick Wills, Alabama* (6-5, 320): Wills started the final 28 games of his career at right tackle and earned second-team All-American as a junior in 2019. He also was academic all-district. According to the Crimson Tide’s coaches, he allowed one sack and 3.5 hurries. He had only seven missed assignments in 2019 in clearing the way for a team that finished second in the nation in scoring. Pro Football Focus raved about his tight end-like athleticism.
Wills protected the blind side of left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. “He’s a physical, aggressive player,” coach Nick Saban said. “I think he’s much more confident in knowing what to do, how to do it, why it’s important to do it that way. His mental errors have gone way down.” Said defensive lineman Raekwon Davis: “He’s improved a lot. He’s good at run blocking. His run-blocking skills are great. Pass rushing, his pass protecting is great, too. So he’s very good at what he does. He’s been helping the team a lot.” The big man once thought of himself as a point guard until he broke his foot as a sophomore at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky. “I always was a basketball player. I thought I could be a point guard one day. But everybody was telling me how good I was (at football).”
Isaiah Wilson, Georgia* (6-7, 340): Wilson turned pro following his redshirt sophomore year. He was a two-year starter at right tackle, earning Freshman All-American honors in 2018 and second-team all-SEC in 2019.
Wilson came a long way as a former five-star recruit from Brooklyn. “I thought he was another guy, that as they got into the heat, they kind of wilted a little bit… didn’t play with the speed and the tenacity,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after a tough practice for Wilson in 2017. “I’m a little disappointed they couldn’t push through mentally better, and push through the heat. [Wilson] was a guy that struggled with that.” By midseason in 2019, Wilson knew he was ready. "Our sixth or seventh game, I started getting into a groove. I figured out where I like to punch my hands, and pass sets became more natural and the game started slowing down for me. Then I'm thinking, 'If this (defensive player) is a first-rounder or that guy is a first-rounder, I'm doing well, too. Going against other talented people, highly touted guys, and holding my own or beating them in a matchup. Maybe (draft entry) is what I'm supposed to do.’” The big man is a big fan of SpongeBob Squarepants, and arrived at Georgia with a strenuous prep-school education.
Tristan Wirfs, Iowa* (6-5, 322): Wirfs was a two-year starter, mostly at right tackle but with three starts at left tackle during an All-American final season. He was voted the Big Ten’s best offensive lineman. In his final seven games, Wirfs allowed one pressure, according to PFF.
During his final year at Mount Vernon (Iowa) High School, he was an All-America in football, state champion in wrestling and state champion in the shot put and discus in track and field, including an amazing worst-to-first performance at the state meet. Before becoming the high school star, he had to sit out playground games in grade school. “Yeah, the teachers told me that sometimes I’d have to sit out and everything. They’d always tell me that I didn’t know my own strength. You know, just typical stuff a teacher tells a big kid when he’s playing with littler kids. I was just trying to have fun with my buddies.” He’s always been a nice kid. But not too nice. “It’s kind of funny. My mom doesn’t know a lot about football. I mean, she loves watching and stuff. But she’d always say I had to flip that switch, to get mean during a game. I’d be like ‘Yeah, I know, mom. I know.’” Like many Iowa linemen, success starts in the weight room. “That’s the next step. I have to take that moving weight in the weight room onto the field. That’s what I have been trying to do this spring ball, finish guys more and move guys off the line of scrimmage.” He set strength records at Iowa.