November 13, 2009
Don't bet against Vandenberg
It takes a lot of courage to call out Pat Angerer. Some might say you have a screw loose to challenge the All Big Ten linebacker to a wrestling match in his basement because Angerer, well he is a little crazy too. That's the kind of crazy that James Vandenberg has and probably needs this weekend as he heads into The Horseshoe to face Ohio State's highly ranked defense.
It's that kind of attitude that is going to serve the baby faced redshirt freshman well as he makes his first collegiate start at one of the most storied venues in college football.
Oh yeah, and the Big Ten title and a bid to the Rose Bowl will be on the line.
"We've had a good season and we're proud of what we've done, but we want to keep working, so I mean it's just another step. Yeah, it's a big step. There's stuff on the line and it's a great environment to play in and they're a good team, but we look forward to the challenge," Vandenberg said.
If Vandenberg was feeling any pressure, he sure didn't show it on Tuesday when he met with the media. He spent part of his time denying that Angerer has choked him into unconsciousness when they grappled and sharing a story about going shopping at Bass Pro Shops with his dad after the game last Saturday.
He certainly doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by the situation he is headed into.
"Not yet," he said with a laugh. "I mean I'm just trying to be more like Rick and keep everything kind of in perspective. Stay grounded and don't take anything too harshly or too lightly. I'm going to give it my best this week and I mean that's all I can do is work as hard as I can."
His debut in Kinnick Stadium last Saturday wasn't what he had hoped for, completing just 9 of 27 passes and having his first throw intercepted.
While some might believe that it was case of nerves or want to lay blame on the feet of the coaches, the simple truth is that Vandenberg probably had some good old adrenaline kicked in and he was too amped up after replacing the injured Ricky Stanzi, who will miss this week's contest after having a procedure done on his severely sprained ankle.
While many give Vandenberg no chance of having any success against the #3 ranked defense in college football and a team that gives up just 11 points a game, this might just be the right guy to handle the situation.
His coach at Keokuk High School, Jayson Williams, is one of those believers.
During his three years with Vandenberg, Williams saw Vandenberg grow from a 5-foot-10 and 135 pound ragdoll into a 6-foot-2 and 190 pound passing machine who re-wrote the record book in the state of Iowa.
Vandenberg holds 12 Iowa high school passing records, including most yards (7,709), most touchdown passes (93), and he has the single season record for yards and touchdowns.
"I would never bet against James," Williams said. "It is hard to compare high school to this situation, but if there was any kid that I could ever pick to be in that situation from mental standpoint, it would be James."
One thing he knows about Vandenberg is that when the lights are the brightest, he tend to play his best football and he won't be in awe of the situation on Saturday at Ohio State.
"He is pretty even keeled and a cerebral kid," Williams said. "With a week of practice as the #1 guy and getting those reps, I think we will see a pretty big leap forward from him."
Williams expects that Vandenberg will have a few butterflies on Saturday when he arrives at the stadium and he might battle them early on, but he won't let it get the best of him.
"He is going to be nervous, but anyone would be. But, I don't think he is going to be intimidated by it. That's just not his makeup. If you aren't nervous with 100,000 fans in the Horseshoe, then there is something wrong with you."
In his senior year in high school, Vandenberg led Keokuk to the state title. Moving on to Iowa was a dream come true for him and now he has his shot at winning a game that will make him an instant legend in Iowa Football lore.
"This is what you play Division One football for. He probably didn't expect his first start to be this way or want it because it means that Ricky got hurt, but it is what it is and the Iowa philosophy is next man in and he will be prepared himself for this," Williams said.
One guy who also believes in Vandenberg is his wrestling buddy, Pat Angerer. He thinks of Vandenberg as his little brother and has grown to admire his toughness.
"James is a competitor. I beat the hell out of him many times and he kept talking trash and coming back for more," Angerer said with a laugh. "I expect him to do a great job on Saturday."
A kid with the courage to battle Angerer one on one might just have the type of moxie needed to pull off what is unthinkable to many college football experts and help lead Iowa back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1991.
"It's extremely exciting and I think we're all looking forward to it," Vandenberg said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for everybody on this team. I mean these don't come around all the time, so I think that will really motivate us."
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