Iowa's senior wide receiver talks about one fateful workout. Mark Emmert / The Register
CHICAGO, Ill. — Matt VandeBerg had been idle long enough. Two fluke foot injuries robbed the Iowa wide receiver of seven months of football.
Once VandeBerg was cleared to start running again, he tore through his workouts.
“I like to be prepared, and the only way to be prepared in my mind is to go out and do the work, whether it be working on a ‘J’ turn, working on a hook, working on any sort of route tree,” VandeBerg said Monday at the Big Ten Conference football media days here.
Word got back to Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, who sent VandeBerg an edict.
“Coach Ferentz told me I’ve got to chill out a little bit,” VandeBerg recounted. “Just kind of get off my feet a little more than usual. Maybe you don’t need to run 12 routes today, let’s just run nine or 10.”
It was a painful message to hear. VandeBerg, a senior who was granted one final season of eligibility after missing the last nine games last season, only knows one speed. And he was particularly eager to show Ferentz that he had regained the form that made him Iowa’s top receiver before his injuries.
“I want to repay him for giving me the scholarship here, and that’s the way I view it is he gave me the opportunity to come here, and I’m trying to show him that his trust was in the right spot,” said VandeBerg, a South Dakota native. “I like going to work. I like the process. But I also understand that games aren’t played in June.”
So VandeBerg has eased up. But he reported his foot at 100 percent health now. He can make any cut — even the one that twice ended with him fracturing the same bone. He’s picking up his knees more while turning, running with his hips looser.
It’s just conditioning where VandeBerg needs to catch up now, he said. That will continue through August camp, he said.
In the meantime, he’s trying to learn a new playbook under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz through “mental reps.”
“Not necessarily a form of meditation,” VandeBerg said. “But take myself through reps, like call out the play audibly and then take myself through what I’m doing on a specific play.”
Iowa's head coach says rehabbing an injury is as much a psychological challenge as a physical one. Mark Emmert / The Register
Ferentz said he’s been impressed with VandeBerg’s determination to get back on the field, where he will be Iowa’s only experienced receiver this fall. VandeBerg has 106 catches for 1,302 yards and eight touchdowns. No other Hawkeye wideout has a college reception on his resume.
“There’s nothing worse than being on the sideline, watching your teammates practicing,” Ferentz said. “That’s a real mind game that gets played. … You can only imagine how frustrating it was for him to go through that injury. I can’t say enough about him. He’s been great.”
VandeBerg reported to Iowa four years ago, weighing in at 162 pounds. He’s up to 195 now, and said one positive part of his rehab was that it allowed him to put on muscle. He said some teammates even teased him about it this offseason.
“One time in the weight room, they said, ‘You should be able to lift that because you’ve got old man strength,’” laughed VandeBerg, the only married player on the team.
But there was a moment of hesitation when VandeBerg was first cleared to run all out in May. He found himself listening to the voice in his head, questioning whether he was really ready.
“I did that one rep and I got furious at myself for allowing that to happen, and then it didn’t happen again,” VandeBerg said. “You’ve just got to go trust it, and that’s what I’m doing now.”