Iowa's VandeBerg ready to take off after two fluky fractures

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Now that he’s fractured the same bone in his foot twice while running the same pass route, Iowa wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is searching for answers.

Is it physiology, something in his running motion, or just plain bad luck?

Iowa wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is ready to high-step his way into a second senior season after twice fracturing the same bone in his left foot.

“I’ve got to look at the film and figure out exactly if it’s me, if it’s bodily or if it’s something I can change to avoid that,” VandeBerg told reporters Wednesday in his first comments since suffering a second “Jones fracture” of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot in February. The first injury caused the Hawkeyes’ most prolific receiver to miss the final nine games of last season.

Iowa wide receiver Matt VandeBerg leaves the stadium after pregame warmups before kickoff against Northwestern on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

The injuries both required surgery and happened during practice sessions as VandeBerg got to the tail end of what he described as a basic post-corner route.

“That tells me that I’m probably doing something wrong, so I’m going to fix that,” said VandeBerg, who has been cleared to return to running and reported no pain in the foot.

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He is getting used to some inserts in his shoe and different techniques to help him shift his weight while he runs. And VandeBerg was clear that his goal hasn’t changed as he gets a second shot at his senior year for Iowa.

“My job when I showed up was to catch the ball and run a few routes and block a little,” said VandeBerg, a native of Brandon, S.D. “I’m going to go hard in practice because that’s what I do, that’s how you get better. If I have to go across the middle and catch the ball, I’m going to go across the middle. If I have to do a double-move, I’ll do a double-move. Whatever that play calls for.”

Iowa wide receiver Matt VandeBerg pulls in a touchdown pass against Iowa State on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

VandeBerg is a technically superb route-runner with terrific hands. That’s helped him amass 106 catches for 1,302 yards and eight touchdowns despite standing a slight 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. He had an uncanny connection with quarterback C.J. Beathard the past two seasons. But the team VandeBerg is returning to this summer is markedly different.

There’s a new offensive coordinator in Brian Ferentz, promoted from line coach after last season. Kelton Copeland is in his first year as Hawkeyes’ wide receivers coach, replacing the ousted Bobby Kennedy. And there will be a new quarterback as untested players Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers battle for the job this summer.

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VandeBerg said he spent spring practices studying a playbook whose terminology has undergone a makeover. He has always been a quick learner, he said.

“I felt good about it in the spring being able to pick up everything, quizzing myself over scripts to make sure I’m on the right page even though I wasn’t physically doing the work,” VandeBerg said. “I wanted to be able to know what every guy’s doing on the field and what his job is.”

VandeBerg is not nervous about making up for lost time this summer while also trying to acclimate to whoever the new quarterback becomes. But he does recognize the urgency, especially as the lone experienced receiver at Iowa’s disposal.

“All of our guys need to take advantage of summer and really using that to try to make sure that we’re on the same page as the quarterbacks. Because that’s when big plays happen, when you guys are on the same page and then the quarterback can find you and you know where to expect the ball,” VandeBerg said.

“We’re going to put in the work to get better. But you can’t force the outcome.”

Iowa wide receiver Matt Vandeberg makes a catch in the end zone for the touchdown Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, during the Hawkeyes' game against North Dakota State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

It’s been an offseason of transition for VandeBerg away from football as well. He married Laura Bulanda, the fellow Iowa student he proposed to right after starring in Iowa’s 42-3 victory over Iowa State in September. They also picked up an energetic miniature schnauzer puppy they named Tuddy (short for “touchdown,” VandeBerg said).

“Nothing really changed other than I wear a ring. I take it off when I’m here, though,” VandeBerg said. “I’m married to football when I’m here, and she knows that.”

At Iowa’s football complex, VandeBerg’s first task is to regain his conditioning after spending months unable to run. He’s confident that he’ll be ready for the team’s August camp, and beyond.

“This type of injury doesn’t reoccur is what I was told,” VandeBerg said of his repeat fracture. “I heard (NBA star) Kevin Durant had something similar and had it twice, and he’s balling out right now.

“So that gives me a pretty positive outlook on it.”