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Matt VandeBerg said "I got two wins" at Kinnick Stadium Saturday night.
The Iowa senior wide receiver had seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, a 25-yard rush on a flanker reverse, and got the answer he sought from his girlfriend after the Hawkeyes’ 42-3 win over Iowa State.
He said he was more nervous playing the game than proposing marriage to Laura Bulanda of Cedar Rapids because "I knew she’d say yes."
It seemed everyone close to VandeBerg knew about the upcoming proposal except for Bulanda herself. Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard knew.
“On the sideline he told me ‘That’s why I threw to you so much. I wanted to make sure she said yes.’” VandeBerg said.
Now that’s a teammate.
“Did she say yes?” Beathard joked to his No. 1 receiver in a Kinnick Stadium hallway as the two waited to take their turns answering questions in an interview room. “It would have been bad if she didn’t.”
What a night. The touchdown catch alone would have been plenty for most players. On a play from the ISU 12, Beathard rolled out under pressure, and threw to the far right side of the end zone. Cyclone defender D’Andre Payne did about everything he legally could to defend the pass, but the taller VandeBerg made a superb leaping catch.
In that interview room, VandeBerg claimed a dropped pass he had was “the only thing I can think about at this point.”
He was exaggerating. He was a happy fellow for multiple reasons, not the least of which was the reaction he got from his now-fiancee when he presented here with a ring.
“It’s amazing,” VandeBerg said. “I don’t have any other words for it.”
But would he have proposed had the Hawkeyes lost? “I don’t have to answer that,” he said with a wry grin.
“I’d kind of hope not,” Bulanda said when asked the same question.
It wasn’t as if that seemed remotely possible given the way VandeBerg and his teammates played.
Bulanda, a 2015 Iowa graduate and the daughter of Connie and Henry Bulanda of Cedar Rapids, called it “a perfect ending to the day." She will start work as a kickboxing instructor in Cedar Rapids next month.
But if VandeBerg keeps playing the way he has started this season, with 11 catches for 228 yards in two games, the couple may have to move to an NFL city next year as he tries to extend his football career.
VandeBerg said the reason he proposed on this particular night was because his father, Dr. Ted VandeBerg, isn’t able to get to his games very often. Ted is a pastor at Cortaro Vista Community Church in Tucson, Ariz.
“I asked him how he was going to play the game knowing he was going to propose afterward,” Ted said. “He said ‘Dad, I’m really good at compartmentalizing.’
“As good a performance it was, I’m really proud of the young man he is. He’s very mature, the way he handles life so well and embraces all of life. Football is a part of it, but he knows there’s more to it than that.”
Ted said “At a congregation meeting last December I said they’d have to put up with me being gone a lot next year. I’m going to go to as many games as I can.”
VandeBerg’s mother is Mindy Pownell of Sioux Falls, S.D., Matt grew up in Brandon, S.D., a suburb of Sioux Falls. He was a high school track state-champion in the long jump and triple jump and was fourth in the 100 meters. He piled up big receiving numbers at Brandon Valley High, but wasn’t a big-time recruit.
For the last couple seasons, though, he has played at a big-time level. His mother repeatedly used the word “awesome” late Saturday evening to describe his play and the night in general.
“I knew he could do it,” she said. “He has such tenacity. He’s not going to let anybody tell him he can’t.”
VandeBerg’s fiancee leapt into his arms as he joined her, and his and her family members, outside the stadium after the game.
“It’s like everything fell into place,” Bulanda said. “I think it’s meant to be.”