IOWA CITY — Sounds as though Iowa’s quarterback meetings should come with a cover charge.
You have senior starter Ricky Stanzi, from the Cleveland suburbs, mingling with sophomores James Vandenberg and John Wienke, both from small towns in Iowa and Illinois, respectively. They like to hunt and fish. Stanzi likes to make fun out of hunting and fishing.
Vandenberg is a particularly avid outdoorsman. After seeing his first time in a real game last season, a loss to Northwestern, he unwound with a trip to the Bass Pro Shop in Altoona.
“All he does is hunt and fish and he thinks he’s so good at it,” Stanzi said. “We’ll always give him crap about that. I’ve never gone hunting or fishing, so it’s hilarious when they sit there and talk about it.
“I’ll pretend I know what they’re talking about just to try to get a rise out of them. It’s just funny.”
Don’t think Vandenberg is the little brother in all this. Yes, he’s got the boyish face and has a soft sort of high-pitched voice, but the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder from Keokuk, gives as good as he gets.
Last year when a high-ankle sprain ended Stanzi’s regular season, senior middle linebacker Pat Angerer set the tone for a week where the Hawkeyes would start Vandenberg at Ohio State with the Big Ten title on the line. Angerer, who’s now an Indianapolis Colt, talked about Vandenberg’s toughness and how he would whup up on the fresh-faced QB in impromptu MMA bouts.
With Angerer safely in Indianapolis, Vandenberg gave his side.
“I tapped him (out) one time. He won’t admit it, but one time, I did get the better of him,” Vandenberg said. “He’ll say it was cheap and all that . . .” and ”. . . and I hope he doesn’t hear about this.”
Vandenberg got some experience last season. He was thrown to the Wildcats in a 17-10 loss at Kinnick. He had his moments — good and bad — at Ohio State, where he passed for 233 yards, two TDs and three interceptions in an overtime defeat. In the season finale, Vandenberg basically steered the ship in a 12-0 victory over Minnesota.
He got a taste and it tasted good.
“He went out and made plays, and that’s really what you’ve got to ask your quarterback to do,” offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “We always talk about trying to make the good decisions and that great decisions can turn into great plays. James made a few of those down the stretch, but first thing he’ll come out and tell you is he’s got a long way to go in handling a lot of the other stuff he saw.”
And yes, Vandenberg knows there is plenty of work to do. His job this year is to push Stanzi, make the senior the best
he can be, but it’s also to signal in plays, go over video and feed Stanzi what he sees and generally back him up in any way needed.
“There’s a great guy in front of me and I know that. I accept it,” said Vandenberg, who completed 42 of 87 for 470 yards, two TDs and five interceptions as a redshirt freshman. “He’s a great quality player. He’s won a lot of games and he does a great job leading our offense, which makes it easier to stand there and give him the signals.”
When it’s football, there’s the humility and knowing his place. When it comes to funny, Vandenberg gets his money’s worth.
He said Stanzi and Wienke do wonderful impressions of head coach Kirk Ferentz. Asked to show his off, Wienke declined, a smart move after being set up by Vandenberg. (Stanzi’s take on Wienke’s impressions, “It’s not good. It can’t be good. It’s John, no way he’s good at it.”)
Then, Vandenberg had a little something for Stanzi, going back to Stanzi’s injury against Northwestern.
“As soon as he went down, I knew he was injured,” Vandenberg said. “He doesn’t really fake anything. He takes a lot of shots and gets back up and cries about it on the sideline, but never out on the field.”
Don’t think for a minute Stanzi was finished.
“He’s funny. He likes to talk a lot of smack,” Stanzi said. “And it’s so funny because he’s so little.”
Believe it or not, O’Keefe, who’s in his 12th season at Iowa, believes this might be the healthiest depth chart he’s had. No one will come right out and say it, but the line of succession post-Stanzi seems to be Vandenberg, with Wienke, true freshman A.J. Derby and recruit Jake Rudock in pursuit.
“It’s good to have guys who are knowledgeable and who’ve been in the system,” O’Keefe said. “You go from there.”
And, no, Stanzi wouldn’t offer up his Ferentz impression, either.
“We’re all so different, but we’re all kind of the same in the sense we play quarterback and we all have the same attitude toward it, which we think is a good one, hopefully,” Stanzi said.
Certainly is a funny one.
Ricky Stanzi, sr., 6-4, 230 (171 of 304, .562%, 2,417 yards, 17 TDs, 15 interceptions)
James Vandenberg, so., 6-3, 212 (42 of 87, .483%, 470 yards, 2 TDs, 5 interceptions)
John Wienke, so., 6-5, 220 (no stats)
A.J. Derby, fr., 6-5, 220 (no stats)
Wyatt Suess, fr., 6-4, 200 (no stats)
Evan McMillan, fr., 6-5, 190 (no stats)
In the huddle
A few seasons during coach Kirk Ferentz’s 12 at the University of Iowa, the QB depth chart was kind of ragged. During the early years, injuries left a swirl of Kyle McCann, Scott Mullen and Randy Reiners. No one found rhythm. In 2010, the Hawkeyes have a bona fide senior starter and leader with stripes (Ricky Stanzi), a sophomore backup who tasted big-time game experience last season (James Vandenberg) and a true freshman who everyone recruited (A.J. Derby). If you want to take it a year farther, Iowa has a commitment from Jake Rudock, who quarterbacks St. Thomas Aquinas out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., one of the top prep programs in the country. With healthy competition and egos, Iowa’s QB depth chart should offer competition and a solid starter for at least the next five seasons.
Stanzi will be the first one to admit that he had too many interceptions last season (15). Here’s part of the reason why: Iowa was a different team from ’08 to ’09. Shonn Greene and a veteran O-line were gone. Heir apparent running back Jewel Hamptonsuffered a torn ACL during summer drills. Iowa threw the ball 72 more times this season than last (392-320) and ran 61 fewer times (454 to 515 in ‘08). Stanzi can be an all-Big Ten QB if he prunes the INT tree.
Senior Ricky Stanzi talks about some of the goofiness in the QB room.
“Everyone’s funny. At least we think we’re funny.”
Sophomore quarterback James Vandenberg talks about the QB depth chart and his experiences last season filling in for starter Ricky Stanzi.
The quarterback meeting room sounds like a fun place to be when it’s not business. “Ricky and John can impersonate anyone in the world.” Both do decent Kirk Ferentz impressions, but they both declined to perform during Friday’s media day.