James Vandenberg wandered through the passageway connecting the Iowa football offices to the team’s indoor practice facility Friday and found a couple dozen reporters waiting for him around the corner.
The junior quarterback stopped between the doors to the outside world and a Powerade vending machine, and he immediately was surrounded by cameras and voice recorders.
“First one here,” Vandenberg cracked. “Rookie mistake.”
Vandenberg readily admits he doesn’t have it all figured out yet. But he knows he’s walking into a pretty good situation during his first season as a full-time starter with the Hawkeyes.
His offensive line consists of three players who started every game last season and two others who have at least three starts at Iowa. Running back Marcus Coker returns after setting an Iowa bowl record with 219 yards rushing in the Insight Bowl. Marvin McNutt, the team’s leading receiver last season, passed on an opportunity to jump to the NFL. Vandenberg said he thanked McNutt when he announced he was coming back for his senior season with the Hawkeyes.
“I couldn’t be happier with the group,” Vandenberg said. “We’ve got a veteran O-line, a good tailback, good returning receivers and some young up-and-comers.”
There’s still some unknown with Vandenberg. He was impressive in a small sample size last season, completing 5-of-8 passing for 45 yards and a touchdown in three games. But the better barometer came in three late-season games in 2009 after Ricky Stanzi went down with an ankle injury.
Vandenberg struggled in relief against Northwestern and steered the Hawkeyes to victory against Minnesota. In between, he completed 20-of-33 for 233 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in an overtime loss at Ohio State with the Big Ten title on the line.
“When I got thrown into that role two years ago, it was a crash course on how to play Big Ten football,” he said. “Having that experience and taking it every day — even as the backup last year — really helped me.”
Vandenberg has grown since then. He’s no longer the skinny freshman who reported to his first training camp at Iowa at 180 pounds. He’s up to 212 now.
His role has grown, too. He’s no longer just the backup quarterback known for needling his defensive teammates.
“Vandenberg’s not the mouthiest person on the team, but he’s pretty dang close,” defensive back Micah Hyde said with a laugh Friday. “It’s all fun and games. That’s why it’s fun to compete against him every day. If I get a pick against him, he’s going to hear it, just like if he threw a pass and one of the receivers caught it on me, I’m going to hear it.”
You might remember the anecdote linebacker Pat Angerer shared two years ago during the week leading up to the Ohio State game.
“I’ve literally choked him unconscious before and he’s gotten up talking trash,” Angerer said. “We’re going to be OK.”
Vandenberg said his being more assertive as a leader has been one of the focal points of his spring. He knows all eyes are on him — just like they were two years ago with the Big Ten title on the line at Ohio State.
Somebody suggested Friday that he could go the rest of his career at Iowa without encountering another situation with as much pressure as he faced in his first college start. He said he hopes there are similar scenarios ahead.
“That means we’re doing something right,” he said. “We’d be in some kind of big game.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football