Iowa looks to senior receiver as a leader.
While much of Iowa’s receiving corps remains in flux, Matt VandeBerg remains firm in his approach.
“Other than I’m going into my senior year, I’m not looking at it any differently,” VandeBerg said. “Every day in practice I feel like I’ve got to go out and prove myself, prove myself worthy of having this scholarship and being given this opportunity.”
The former unheralded grayshirt recruit is now the Hawkeyes football program’s most proven pass catcher, after finishing last season with a team-best 65 receptions for 703 yards and four touchdowns.
VandeBerg put his skills on display during Friday’s open practice at West Des Moines’ Valley Stadium, but curious spectators may have focused more on less familiar players.
With the departures of Tevaun Smith (32 catches in 2015 for 563 yards) as well as tight ends Henry Krieger-Coble (35 for 405) and George Kittle (20 for 290), quarterback C.J. Beathard will be looking for new targets in the fall.
“That’s a big area for development,” coach Kirk Ferentz said of the receiver position. “We lost a really good group of seniors who not only played a lot of snaps, but also did a lot of good things on the field leadership-wise.”
VandeBerg, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound Arizona native who became a high school star at Brandon, S.D., should help fill the void.
He started just one game his first two years with the Hawkeyes, then turned in a breakout performance last year.
He now has 87 catches and 1,018 yards in his college career.
“You can’t take it for granted,” VandeBerg said. “J.J. Watt has a good quote, ‘Rent is due every day.’’’
VandeBerg was the clear go-to guy during Friday’s scrimmage, making catches in double coverage and even darting into the backfield to take a pitch.
Meanwhile, others contributed their own highlights:
- Jay Scheel caught an 80-yard bomb from Beathard during seven-on-seven drills.
- Jonathan Parker made a leaping touchdown grab between two defenders.
- Junior tight end Jon Wisnieski made a lunging reception for a nice gain.
All of these moments came amid wind gusts in excess of 30 mph, which made throwing a little tricky.
“I think the receiver corps is coming,” Ferentz said. “We still have work to do, for sure.”
Scheel, a 6-1, 195-pound sophomore from Mount Auburn, may have the most intriguing upside.
“We’ve got a lot of playmakers on offense,” VandeBerg said. “(Scheel) has had a phenomenal spring, so far.
“It has to do with a lot of hard work in the offseason, and I think it also has a lot to do with our entire group getting better as a corps.”
Blustery conditions made judging Friday’s effort even more futile than most spring workouts.
But having Beathard in the pocket, some experience along the offensive line and VandeBerg setting an example should provide reasons for optimism.
“It’s a combination between a mentor and a leader,” VandeBerg said. “As a senior, it should be my role, but (fellow receiver) Riley McCarron is going into his fifth year so you respect that as well.
“Our main role is to bring the young guys along and make sure they know what they’re doing.”