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With Stanzi gone, Vandenberg is in

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | APRIL 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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For the better part of three seasons, James Vandenberg watched Ricky Stanzi. He performed clipboard duty. He described his role as Stanzi’s “secondhand man” during film sessions. He graciously waited to be Iowa’s No. 1 quarterback.

And now that the opportunity is here — Stanzi graduated this past December — surely a lot has changed for the redshirt junior?

Not so much.

“It’s a little different. I get a lot more reps,” Vandenberg said on April 8. He looked the role of youngster only in his boyish face. He spoke with the maturity of an experienced leader.

“It’s still football to me. Nothing’s really changed except my workload and maybe the way guys view me. I had to assert myself as more of a leader.”

Perhaps the reason that Vandenberg’s transition has been so seamless thus far is because of his predecessor. Stanzi provided a strong example of what one must do to flourish as a starting quarterback. Teammates spoke passionately and often of his work ethic — Stanzi sat in the film room “seven, eight hours a day” fellow quarterback John Wienke said last August.

Vandenberg said that dedication was reflected in Stanzi’s meteoric career.

“I watched all the little changes he made and how he went about his day running the team, studying defenses, studying himself,” Vandenberg said. “He had a great work ethic that I think everybody looked up to.”

Of course, most know Vandenberg doesn’t enter his first season as Iowa’s starter completely devoid of game experience. After Stanzi suffered a severely sprained ankle against Northwestern in 2009, the Keokuk, Iowa, native was thrust into the limelight as a redshirt freshman.

His first assignment: the de facto Big Ten championship game against No. 10 Ohio State in Columbus. The result: A Rose Bowl-dream-crushing 27-24 overtime loss.

With three interceptions, Vandenberg was not perfect, though his performance was admirable — especially considering it was his first career start. He completed 20-of-33 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. His follow-up effort the next week against Minnesota was less glamorous — 11-of-24 for 117 yards and one interception — but he led Iowa to a 12-0 win nonetheless, all but reserving the Hawkeyes a spot in a BCS game.

Then, he returned to relative obscurity.

Stanzi returned from surgery and started in Iowa’s 2010 Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. He remained healthy in his final year as a Hawkeye, putting together the finest season of his career.

But Vandenberg said he didn’t grow restless over that time. He treated it as another opportunity to improve.

“When I got thrown into that [starting] role two years ago, it was a crash course on how to play Big Ten football,” Vandenberg said. “Having that experience and then just taking every day even as the backup last year really helped me.”

That work behind the scenes didn’t go unnoticed. Head coach Kirk Ferentz praised Vandenberg for his performance in practice, particularly during this past December in preparation for the Insight Bowl against Missouri.

“That’s the most recent exposure; we really had a chance to watch him extensively,” the 13th-year head coach said March 23, also noting a specific practice in which the team’s seniors were excused for graduation. “… So it was our team minus the seniors, basically the spring-ball group. He did a really nice job.”

Positive reviews for Vandenberg aside, when replacing a player such as Stanzi — practically the face of the Iowa football program for the last three years — you’d think teammates might have at least a shred of doubt.

If so, they’re not showing it.

“You saw him at Ohio State? He almost beat the team. He led us into overtime,” senior tight end Brad Herman said March 30. “So the expectations are high for him … I’m sure he’ll do just fine.”


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