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IOWA CITY — It’s been almost four months since Zach VanValkenburg stepped foot in Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., for his last game as an Iowa football player.
“It feels obviously like a lifetime ago that I was playing here,” VanValkenburg said Monday in the atrium of the football facility he frequented for three years as a Hawkeye.
In those long four months, VanValkenburg has transitioned from playing high-level college football to hoping to hear his name called in next month’s NFL Draft.
VanValkenburg did not receive an invite to this month’s NFL Combine, but the former Iowa defensive end could be either an undrafted free agent or late-round pick.
Part of his pitch to NFL teams is his reliability and consistency.
“You know what you’re getting with me,” VanValkenburg said. “Every day, I’m going to come in and work. I’m going to maximize my talent. I’m going to maximize my ability.”
VanValkenburg played at least 50 defensive snaps in 12 of the Hawkeyes’ 14 games last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had a team-high 15 tackles for loss in 2021 and earned second-team all-Big Ten honors from coaches and media.
At 6-foot-4 and weighing 267 pounds, VanValkenburg has the size to likely be an edge rusher at the NFL level in either a 4-3 system or 3-4 system. He’s more familiar with the former from his time in Iowa City.
“Really all my career has been 4-3,” VanValkenburg said.
The NFL teams he’s heard from with 3-4 systems have some different ideas of how to use him.
“Some of the 3-4 teams I’ve talked to have been (discussing) edge,” VanValkenburg said. “Some of them have been, ‘We’re going to add some weight and make you a 4i, so an interior kind of guy.’”
VanValkenburg said he thought he did “pretty good” at Iowa’s pro day. He also had the benefit of playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he talked to “quite a few scouts.”
Teammate Dane Belton called VanValkenburg an “underrated guy” in this year’s draft class.
“You can see it on film,” Belton said. “He has a high motor. He’s a guy that is going to give you all he has.”
VanValkenburg spent time training in Florida with other NFL prospects, including former teammate Jack Koerner and former rival JoJo Domann.
"I didn’t have winter for the first time in my life,“ VanValkenburg said. ”It was kind of nice.“
Iowa’s wins over Domann’s Huskers — six of them, to be specific, since he arrived in Lincoln, Neb., in 2016 — came up in conversation.
“Obviously you talk about it,” VanValkenburg said. “It’s fun to joke about.”
The rivalries faded, though, like a Florida sunset.
“As a population, college football players are hardworking guys,” VanValkenburg said. “You have a lot in common with them, obviously, once you strip away team affiliations and things like that. … There’s definitely a common kind of Big Ten type of mentality that a lot of guys have. It was good to see.”
The three-year Iowa standout is back in a more familiar place for his pre-draft training.
VanValkenburg is spending the next month of training in Iowa City and plans to “work with some of the younger guys here at Iowa for spring ball.”
“I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands, so I might as well help give back a little more to guys I’ve already built relationships with,” VanValkenburg said. “Just trying to help next year’s team.”
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