April 15, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa football fans knew the day would eventually come; the day when Ricky Stanzi, the charismatic and talented quarterback, would no longer be under center for the Hawkeyes. But Iowa supporters shouldn't be worried about Stanzi's replacement in 2011, according to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe.
As expected, junior James Vandenberg from Keokuk, Iowa, is listed as the No. 1 quarterback on the spring depth chart. In his first spring practices as the starter, Vandenberg has impressed O'Keefe, both on and off the field.
"Obviously he knows what he's doing in our system," O'Keefe said. "He's doing a great job of leading the unit. The players react and respond well to him."
Many players have said leadership was one of Stanzi's finest qualities during his time as a Hawkeye. O'Keefe believes Vandenberg is providing the same type of guidance.
"The No. 1 way for a leader to get respect is to provide a great example for everybody else around them," O'Keefe said. "I think James does that in every aspect of his life. And when you're able to do that, people gravitate to you. They are going to be more willing to listen to what you have to say."
Another sign of Vandenberg's maturity and leadership, according to O'Keefe, is his constant pursuit of perfection.
"He works hard, studies hard, and he never leaves the field without correcting a mistake that he may have made in practice," O'Keefe said. "If he didn't throw a ball the way he wanted to throw it, with a certain receiver running a certain route, he'll keep that receiver out until he corrects that. He can leave the field knowing that he's capable of throwing it the right way."
Vandenberg is not only worried about his perfection, but the perfection of his surrounding teammates. He has been in the system since 2008, and his obsession for doing things the right way is taking form in his knowledge of the offense.
"I think James is getting to that point, where one of the other skill guys were to make a mistake more than once during a practice with the same play, the quarterback should be looking," O'Keefe said. "James is where he can now start to do those kinds of things."
O'Keefe isn't too worried about a big gap in playing style differences between Stanzi and Vandenberg, because the offensive scheme allows quarterbacks to play to their strengths.
"The system has some flexibility to use the different talents that guys have," O'Keefe said. "Win 11 games with Brad Banks (2002), come back the next year and win (10) games with Nathan Chandler (2003) -- two totally different body types and athletes."
Vandenberg isn't a stranger to the starting role, as he filled in for the final two regular-season games in 2009 when Stanzi went down with an ankle injury. Vandenberg's first career start came at Ohio State, in a game that was for a Big Ten championship. He finished 20-of-33 with 233 yards and two touchdowns in the overtime loss at one of the toughest venues to play in the Big Ten.
Even though Vandenberg has experience, O'Keefe and the coaches have tried to make the spring more game-like to simulate what he will see in the season-opener Sept. 3.
"We try to create as much game day atmosphere as we possibly can," O'Keefe said. "We spent a little bit more time doing that this spring than we have in a while."
O'Keefe said Vandenberg has "kind of always known" he would eventually be the starting quarterback at Iowa. Even as a backup, Vandenberg was prepared for the starting position.
O'Keefe has the offensive players set goals each season, and almost every player lists "starter" as a goal. But Vandenberg showed he was ready to be a starter in an unusual way.
"James came in with some statistical-based information," O'Keefe said. "Why he needed to be ready to be the starter because of what happens. He made me sit up (and say) `oh, that's really going on.' He really proved it right himself."
Now that he is a starter, O'Keefe and Hawkeye fans are hoping for more "oh, that's really going on" moments out of Vandenberg this fall.
The UI football team makes its debut appearance for 2011 on Saturday, April 16, at the annual Iowa Football Coca-Cola Classic Spring Practice. The defending Insight Bowl champions begin their team practice at approximately noon. The session is expected to last about two hours and will include a controlled scrimmage near its conclusion.
The west grandstand and south grandstand will be open for spectators. Gates A, B, and E will open at 10:30 a.m. There is no admission charge, but fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for donation to the Johnson County Crisis Center.
To read more about the Coca-Cola Classic Spring Practice, click HERE.