The Same Old James

Nov. 12, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the Nov. 11 edition of the University of Iowa’s Official Sports Report, a daily e-newsletter available free to fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes. To learn more about the UI’s OSR, click HERE

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In his words, life hasn’t changed much in the past six days for James Vandenberg.

Actually, life hasn’t changed much for the University of Iowa football team either, despite suffering its first loss of the season against Northwestern on Nov. 7. This Saturday the Hawkeyes will play for the Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Under center, leading one of the top teams in the country, will be Vandenberg, a redshirt freshman.

“It’s a great situation to walk into,” said Vandenberg, who completed 9 of 27 passes for 82 yards in a 41-minute relief appearance against the Wildcats. “What more could I ask for? I plan on making the most of it and putting ! in as much effort as I can to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.”

Also lost Nov. 7 were the services of quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who had started 19 consecutive games for Iowa. Stanzi suffered a regular season-ending ankle injury that required surgery Monday. So instead of making a homecoming to his home state of Ohio on the playing field against the Buckeyes, Stanzi will serve as a team captain and tutor Vandenberg from the sideline.

“Rick is a calm character and he’s cool under fire,” Vandenberg said. “He’s definitely rubbed off on me. He’s already helped me a ton. He was in here Sunday night. He’s good at keeping everything in perspective. I look forward to learning a lot from him this week.”

On Tuesday, the same reporters who left Vandenberg stranded during summer Media Day bolted toward him with video camera and tape recorders in hand.

“I’ve received a lot of support, otherwise I’m the same old Jam! es,” Vandenberg said. “I actually don’t have Facebook, so I wa s able to dodge that bullet. I got some random text messages from people I didn’t know. I still had class today, I had class yesterday – which was rough. I’ve received a lot of support, but besides that, I’m pretty-much the same.”

Hawkeye fans would welcome the same James who was named Iowa Class 3A Player of the Year in 2007 as a senior at Keokuk (Iowa) High School. Vandenberg is the most prolific passer in state history, throwing for 7,709 yards and 93 touchdowns in a career. As a senior, he passed for 3,729 yards and 49 scores.

“It will be a different stage (at Ohio State),” Vandenberg said. “But I’ve been in Kinnick enough and just going on the road, you get used to how hostile it is in the Big Ten. No one is a push-over.”

The Ohio State defense ranks third in the nation in rushing (85.4 yards per game), fourth in scoring (11.2 points per game) and sixth in total defense (254.1 yards per game). Buck! eye strong safety Kurt Coleman and linebacker Ross Homan both have three interceptions.

During his brief college career, Vandenberg has already convened with some of the fiercest defenders in the league.and one was his teammate.

“Last summer as a true freshman coming in I would go over to (Pat Angerer’s) house and hang out,” Vandenberg said. “We’ve had some wrestling matches and they were a little lopsided. I don’t think he’s ever put me unconscious, but he’s come pretty close.”

Since stepping on campus in the summer of 2008, Vandenberg has bulked-up nearly 35 pounds. UI head coach Kirk Ferentz recalls feelings of apprehension when he glanced at Vandenberg’s 170-pound high school frame.

“He looked pretty thin,” Ferentz recalled. “But Chuck Long looked like that when he got here.”

“It’s a great situation to walk into. What more could I ask for? I plan on making the most of it and putting in as much effort as I can to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.”

The similarities between Long and Vandenberg don’t stop with a skinny physical build. Vandenberg’s jersey number is 16 — the same number Long wore while throwing for a school-record 10,461 yards and 74 touchdowns from 1981-85.

“I just want to represent because he was such a great player,” Vandenberg said. “I feel it’s kind of my duty. I was No. 10 out of high school and I know nobody on offense was No. 10, but I was given 16 and I didn’t feel like causing an uproar – it didn’t bother me.”

While Vandenberg was racking up an unprecedented yardage total as a prep, he received scholarship offers from Nebraska and Northern Illinois. During the Class 3A state championship game, Vandenberg threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns and led Keokuk to a 42-7 win over Brandon Wegher and Sioux City Heelan. Soon after, the Hawkeyes presented a scholarship as well.

“To me, it was always going to be Iowa,” Vandenberg said. “This was the place I was going to go and if they were going to offer, I wasn’t going to be able to turn it down.”

Vandenberg’s first collegiate start will be televised natio! nally by ABC. Kickoff from “The Horseshoe” in Columbus will be 2:30 p.m. (Iowa time).