Hlas column: Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg appears to have laid his own good foundation

James Vandenberg speaking last week (David Scrivner/SourceMedia Group)
James Vandenberg speaking last week (David Scrivner/SourceMedia Group)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg gave a 7-minute speech without using as much as a note  Thursday, making only one turnover.

Speaking at the Cedar Rapids Area Association of Realtors Scholarship Luncheon at Coe College, Vandenberg touted the values of education. But he made it clear that of all the classes he’s taken at Keokuk High School and the University of Iowa, chemistry is his least-favorite.

After the luncheon was over, a woman with a serious expression on her face approached him.

“I’m a chemistry teacher, young man,” she said, then she turned and walked away.

But everyone else in the room probably had no problem understanding where Vandenberg was coming from after he told us this:

“I was a hair shy of being valedictorian (at Keokuk,” he said. “The first semester my senior year, somehow my chemistry teacher gave me a B-plus. I still hold a grudge to this day.”

That got a good laugh from the audience, but Vandenberg may not have been exaggerating his feeling. Being valedictorian, he said, “was something I kind of wanted to do. After my sophomore year, I thought ‘Man, I can really make a run at this.’ I tried. I came up short.

“I still hate chemistry to this day. It was one of the least-fun classes I’ve taken at the University of Iowa. I wouldn’t suggest it to anybody.”

Yeah, the jock took chemistry. And he’s taken physics.

“I’ve done all the biologies, all the anatomy labs, all the physiology,” Vandenberg said. “I’ve dissected frogs, chickens, pigs.”

He is majoring in integrated physiology. “Basically,” he said, “it’s a long word for pre-physical therapy or pre-chiropractic. My dad’s a doctor, so he doesn’t really want me going with the chiropractic crowd. I’m keeping my options open.”

If anyone out there is, shall we say, football-minded, don’t fear that schoolwork will bog Vandenberg down during what is expected to be his two years as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. The fourth-year junior knows how to make time for everything. Plus, he’s on schedule to graduate this December.

“I’ll be done in 3 1/2 years,” he said. “After that, I get to stay around two more years. I’ll take some extra classes that will get me into physical therapy, chiropractic. I’ve looked at PA (Physician Assistant) school. I’m looking at a lot of different things.”

I hadn’t been around Vandenberg much until his appearance at Coe. All I had to judge him by was how he handled getting thrust into a starter’s role late in the 2009 season when Ricky Stanzi suffered a high ankle sprain. Vandenberg is best-known as a Hawkeye for taking the reigns at Ohio State that year and giving an excellent account of himself under the circumstances in Iowa’s 27-24 overtime loss.

It was equally impressive to see him speak in public for several minutes without a script, and without any stammering, slouching or slang. He’ll be one of the faces of Iowa football for the next two years, and seems well-equipped to handle it.

“Education was always stressed as extremely important in my family,” Vandenberg said, “from the first-grade on.

“In middle school I was in TAG, Talented and Gifted. Basically, it means I was a little nerdier than most of the other kids. In seventh- and eighth-grade I used to compete in math bees and science bees. ... It was something I really took seriously.”

He also was serious about athletics in Keokuk. Besides being Iowa’s High School Player of the Year as a senior (49 touchdown passes, 3,729 passing yards), he lettered in four other sports. “I loved tennis,” he said, and he was a two-time conference champion in the sport.

“High school sports are demanding,” said Vandenberg, “but there’s definitely enough time to get a high school education and play sports.

“Something that really stuck strong with me was that I was going to get good grades no matter what.”

He said those things in front of fellow devoted students, adding “You’ve laid a good foundation. There’s no reason not to finish the job now.

“I really hope you take it seriously. Take chemistry if you want.”


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