Former Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi had to become a leader as a sophomore, when he took the post from Jake Christensen to be the starting signal caller of the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2008. It was a rocky term of ups and downs from 2008-2010. Now the reign of Stanzi is over, as he prepares to take a shot at an NFL career. The torch likely passes to his protégé James Vandenberg, who will be a junior when he officially takes the starting quarterback position.
In 2010, Stanzi had to carry the hopes of a Big Ten Title, and dreams of more, on his precarious shoulders. While Stanzi made many personal improvements to his game, including his QB stats and efficiency, he could not lead his team to deliver on those lofty expectations, though the blame clearly is not his alone.
In several months, the dawn of a new season will arrive with a much different expectation. Vandenberg’s task will be even more difficult than Stanzi’s; he will have to turn a new page and leave behind not only the disappointing record of 2010, but also the tarnished reputation some of his former teammates left behind.
James will have to show his team a new brand of leadership, one that can overcome both on and off the field adversity, and reclaim for a doubting world Iowa’s place with the Big Ten elite.
His task is made more difficult with a new Big Ten in which Iowa is placed in a division outside of Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State. Nebraska and Michigan will have to rise to their old glory to be competitors that prepare Iowa to play with the “Leaders.” Iowa’s schedule next season will be viewed as not so challenging, making it harder to claw for respect even if they win more games.
The most difficult challenge will be to take on the role of a true leader, one that can inspire his team once again after all the negativism and off-field antics, and the mysterious, unfortunate case of the “unlucky 13” players falling to rhabdomyolysis.
Vandenberg will need to create a newly inspired offense, with young receivers and running backs that must unlearn what they have learned regarding who to look up to and emulate.
The biggest hurdle of all will be to give reporters and pundits reason to start writing positive articles about the Iowa Football program and its coaches. Once the truth is known and dealt with regarding the rhabdomyolysis case, fans and teammates will be eager to get on with the business at hand, the 2011 season. People will look to Vandenberg to be a “new hope,” a catalyst to start the program turnaround.
That’s a lot of pressure for a college student athlete to take on. Yet the expectation will be there, partly due to Vandenberg himself. When James was called to action as the replacement for Stanzi in the 2009 Ohio State game, he wowed the college football world by showing his capability to learn quickly and nearly captured the Big Ten title for Iowa. Even in that loss, countless people were impressed by his poise and ability to lead the Hawkeyes to their greatest team performance of the year.
By doing well in 2009, Vandenberg set the bar high for himself. He was barely seen under center in 2010 in the preseason, and fans are chomping at the bit to see if he’s improved during his year on the sideline. Some go as far to claim he is a better quarterback than Stanzi, the third best quarterback Iowa has ever had.
There is hope he can live up, at least in part, to the expectations. Head coach Kirk Ferentz regularly praised his progress in interviews in 2010, despite James not getting the opportunity to showcase that improvement in games. He has the tools to become a great quarterback—one heck of an arm and a quick delivery, as showcased in 2009. He also spent a great deal of time learning from Stanzi, which no doubt included some of what not to do in a game situation, as well as learning how to watch game film.
At Iowa, a quarterback does not a great team make. Iowa concentrates on strong defense, an unbreakable offensive line and a strong running game. A great quarterback is a bonus.
Still, the quarterback position is traditionally one of leadership and, along with the head coach, the public face of the program. In the wake of a series of black eyes, Hawkeye fans are eager to see a different face for 2011. One belonging to a local kid with an innocent grin and reputation for being one of the nicest, humblest kids you’ll ever meet, just might be what the doctor ordered.
Here’s hoping Vandenberg is ready to accept this new challenge head on. He already has a host of fans ready to cheer him on to victory.