Hawkeyes’ Vandenberg ready to be the Mandenberg

BY SETH ROBERTS | JUNE 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa football fans haven’t seen much of James Vandenberg lately.

The redshirt junior quarterback spent the past two years as a backup to Ricky Stanzi. He hasn’t appeared in a game since early in the 2010 season and hasn’t taken a meaningful snap since 2009.

His career numbers aren’t wonderful, either; he’s completed 51.6 percent of his passes and thrown three touchdowns to five interceptions.

But, like it or not, it’s Vandenberg’s turn to step under center full-time — and the Keokuk native said he’s not especially worried.

“If I’m not ready now, after three years, I’ll never be ready,” he said, and laughed.

His teammates seem to believe it, too.

“There’s a serious demeanor you need in your quarterbacks, and James definitely has that — he has natural leadership ability,” center James Ferentz said. “Guys will naturally look to James like they did to Rick. That’s one of those things you could be concerned with, if you have a guy forcing it, but James is just a natural leader.

“He’s done a great job of embracing the role.”

Part of that leadership was undoubtedly fostered in 2009, when Vandenberg took the reins from an injured Stanzi late in the season. He didn’t play especially well when he was thrown into the action against Northwestern — nine completions in 27 attempts, with an interception — but redeemed himself a week later in his first start when he marched the team into Columbus, Ohio, to face the No. 10 Buckeyes.

Iowa ended up losing that game to the eventual Rose Bowl champions, 27-24 in overtime, but Vandenberg completed 20-of-33 passes for 233 yards and threw a 10-yard laser to Marvin McNutt to tie the game with under three minutes left in regulation.

“As far as nerves go, they were there — the Ohio State game was in a huge environment,” Vandenberg said. “[But] as soon as you get that first snap, it all blacks out. You don’t hear the crowd, you don’t understand what the down and distance is half the time. You’re just out there playing — it’s just football. It’s like fifth grade.”

And while knowing the down and distance will probably be important once the actual games roll around in late September, tight end Brad Herman said he has bought into the idea of Vandenberg being the leader of the team. The Metamora, Ill., native said the young quarterback has played a big role in improving the Hawkeyes’ chemistry, something he said is vital for a team’s success.

“The relationships top to bottom — we’re blending well,” he said. “I feel we’re blending a lot better than [we did] last year. That was a great team, but I felt the chemistry wasn’t there between the older and younger guys.”

That chemistry is even more important now that the younger guys have taken over the team, particularly on offense. Vandenberg and likely starting wide receiver Keenan Davis have two combined starts between them, No. 1 tailback Marcus Coker is a 19-year-old sophomore, and Herman said his backups at tight end are still learning the Ken O’Keefe’s various schemes.

Just because there’s a lack of game experience doesn’t mean all the players are unfamiliar with each other, though.

“Some people act like we’ve never thrown before, and we have to get all this timing come this fall — we’ve thrown for three years together,” Vandenberg said. “Even though I was never the No. 1 guy, I think I was every bit as good friends with all those guys that Rick was — maybe even more.”

But Vandenberg did say that his expanding role has caused those friendships to change slightly.

“They listen to me a little more, and I try to push them a little more than maybe I would have when I was the No. 2 guy and I was younger,” he said. “I would never even speak up to them, I was just glad they were out there playing catch with me. I try to assert myself a little more — not coach them, obviously, but just try to work on fine, little details together.”

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