IOWA CITY -- One has a bear rug. The other has a mohawk.
Or had a mohawk. Steele Jantz's haircut is almost perfectly normal. James Vandenberg's head has only ever known normal.
"I'm not a mohawk guy, by any stretch," Vandenberg said. "We dyed our hair one time as a high school team and that was the biggest mistake of my life."
Jantz, Iowa State's dervish of a quarterback, lived in a truck for a time while playing at City College of San Francisco. It was a '95 Ford with a "topper." His bed during this hardship -- something Jantz places in the "no big deal" category -- was a plank of wood in truck's bed with mattress on top.
"So, when you opened the truck it was like a bed. It was comfortable," Jantz said. "And I had little compartments for my shoes and stuff. It was set up. The bad thing was is it wasn't really secure. We had stuff stolen."
Vandenberg, Iowa's thinker of a quarterback, is a third generation QB. His grandfather, Jim, played at Southern Arkansas College before he eventually moved to fullback. Toby Vandenberg, James' father, starred at Keokuk and earned a scholarship to Missouri Western, an NCAA Division II school.
All that QBness, Vandenberg downplays it.
"He was never a know-it-all," said Jayson Campbell, Vandenberg's coach when the Chiefs won the 2008 Class 3A title and Vandenberg set every QB record you can imagine. "He was a team player the whole way. He just made you feel good. I’ve heard coach [Kirk] Ferentz talk before, just being around James gives you that certain comfortable feeling. His persona and the way he carried himself, he was pretty unassuming."
Jantz and Vandenberg are miles apart in background and pedigree. Vandenberg had offers from Iowa, Nebraska and Northern Illinois. Jantz tried to walk-on at Hawaii. Why not do that, right?
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They play quarterback for the major-college football teams in Iowa. They might be the same height, or they're close. That's about it.
There is one other thing. They both desperately want to win today when the Cyclones (1-0) face the Hawkeyes (1-0) at Kinnick Stadium.
"You're either a Cyclone fan or a Hawkeye fan," Jantz said. "It just means so much to the fans. Cyclone fans really want to win and Hawkeye fans really want to win. That's where I get the biggest sense for what this means."
Keep in mind, Jantz is from California. Like really frooooommmm California. Iowa State lists Jantz's hometown as Agoura Hills, just north of Malibu. He went to high school at Nevada Union, which is in Nevada City, sitting in the shadows of the pines of Tahoe National Forest.
His parents bought property that had a house that hadn't been lived in for 40 years. Eventually there was a trailer, but mostly there were tents.
"We just had tents and we’d sleep in [them] and go to school and come home, eat dinner," said Jantz, whose monster game lifted ISU past Iowa in three overtimes last season. "My parents actually built a little cabin after the trailer. After dinner, we’d go out and it would be like camping."
Vandenberg is from Iowa and is really oooooooooof Iowa. He also loves the outdoors, especially the hunting and fishing part. After a disastrous first extended appearance (9 of 27 for 82 yards and an interception) in an Iowa uniform subbing for injured Ricky Stanzi in '09, he unwound with a quick shopping trip to the Bass Pro Shop in Altoona.
“So, I was up in Bass Pro Shop trying some waders on, some hunting waders. The guy was like, ‘Did you go to the (Iowa) game today?’ I was like, ‘Yeah,’” Vandenberg said. “And he said, ‘Did it look as rough in person as it did on TV?’ And I said, ‘You have no idea.’ ”
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Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called Vandenberg “Opie” last fall because of his wholesome look and down-home demeanor. So, Vandenberg shot a 350-pound black bear this summer in way northern Saskatchewan, so far up there that it was a six-hour drive just for cell phone service. And no, it wasn't because his coach compared him to a character from the 1960s TV show "The Andy Griffith Show." This was Vandenberg's second bear hunt.
“It’s going to be a pretty big rug for wherever I live the next 50 years,” he said.
Ferentz made the "Opie" comment, but he also admired Vandenberg's toughness, which was on full display in Iowa's 18-17 gut check against Northern Illinois last week. He was sacked six times and took a brutal blindside shot on a two-point conversion.
"He's what you want in a quarterback, at least what we want," Ferentz said. "He didn't say a word [about the hits] and he was laughing about it Sunday."
California has mountains and redwoods and people. Iowa has prairies and not as many people.
"Out here, it almost feels like I go back in time when I come back, it really does," said Jantz, who completed 32 passes for 281 yards in ISU's win over Tulsa last week. "Back in Ames, it's the slow life. When I go back home, everything seems faster."
When Vandenberg was 3- or 4-years-old, his dad took him out in the woods and had him throw a rock at a rabbit. Toby Vandenberg told the Burlington Hawk Eye that it was a direct hit, killing the rabbit.
When Jantz went to junior college in San Francisco, he lived in a truck down by the ocean.
"He's pretty level-headed," ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. "I've never seen him walk around and think, 'Oh, I've got to bring him back down.' It's never been the case with him. He just goes out and does his part."
Jantz had a sort-of mohawk going into Iowa State's fall camp.
"It's still kind of here a little bit. I guess the closest thing is a mohawk," he said. "I've had a lot of different haircuts since I've been here. I'm sure the coaches weren't too surprised."
Vandenberg is a no-mohawk."I just like the regular-old clean up every couple of weeks," he said. "Mohawk might work for him [Jantz], but definitely not for me."