IOWA CITY, Iowa — Two of Iowa’s most important male athletes in 2017 hail from the same South Dakota high school.
Neither were expected to make much of an impact coming out of Brandon Valley (S.D.) High School, but, boy, are Jake Adams and Matt VandeBerg important to the Iowa Hawkeyes sports programs.
As a first baseman with Iowa’s baseball team, Adams led the NCAA with a Big Ten-record 29 home runs this past season. His success propelled the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Adams finished third nationally in total bases (183), fourth in slugging percentage (.747), and eighth in RBIs (72). He was the unanimous Big Ten MVP and a second-team All-American.
As a receiver on the football team, VandeBerg was a team captain in 2016 after catching 65 passes — third-most in school history — during Iowa’s 12-win campaign in 2015. He suffered a broken foot last year and received a medical redshirt. VandeBerg is a redshirt senior and a vital performer in Iowa’s passing offense.
VandeBerg and Adams played one season of football together at Brandon Valley, located just east of Sioux Falls. VandeBerg, who was a year older than Adams, competed as a receiver and safety. Adams was the team’s starting middle linebacker. In 2012, their squad was a state finalist.
VandeBerg initially accepted a grayshirt opportunity with Iowa before earning a scholarship just before camp in 2013. A year later, Adams went to Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College to play baseball. After two seasons of junior-college ball, Adams signed with North Dakota. But when that baseball program folded, he picked Iowa.
“Obviously, he’s a phenomenal athlete,” Adams said this summer about VandeBerg. “He has the speed. The No. 1 reason [VandeBerg] wasn’t recruited more heavily is he wasn’t very big in high school. I think he weighed … he didn’t weigh that much.
“In football he was our go-to-guy as a wide receiver and he’s our safety on the defensive side. He’s got a couple of records back home on the defensive side. He’s a fun guy to be around playing behind him, too.”
VandeBerg was just as high on Adams. At a school in South Dakota’s largest classification, they were friendly with one another but didn’t hang out often. But they supported one another, both in high school and at Iowa.
“I got to go to a few games [this spring] and watch him hit a few home runs,” VandeBerg said of Adams. “As strong as he was with the bat, he was strong like that hitting running backs. He was our middle linebacker for us the year we went to the state championship my senior year. Unfortunately we didn’t win that game, but he was able to come out.
“I think that was the only year he played football and we went to the state championship, if that tells you anything about him. He’s a good guy. I saw his first [pro] at-bat and he sent it over the wall. I think he’s doing just fine.”
Adams’ numbers in his final season at Iowa were historic. He led the Big Ten in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, runs (55), and total bases (183), while also ranking second in hits (82) and sixth in batting average (.335). Adams had 27 multi-hit and 16 multi-RBI games this season. He totaled 48 more bases that the league runner-up, and the next-best slugging percentage was .593.
The Houston Astros drafted Adams in the sixth round in June. He leads the Class A Tri-City ValleyCats in home runs with seven, but is hitting just .174 this summer.
VandeBerg caught 19 passes for 284 yards and three scores in Iowa’s first four games before his injury last season. At Iowa, he ranks 19th in career receptions (106) and 27th in receiving yards (1,302). If he duplicates his 2015 numbers — 65 catches, 703 yards — VandeBerg would finish third in career catches and sixth in yards.
“I knew [VandeBerg] had the ability, once he came here, that he was going to make some noise here at this level,” Adams said. “It was fun to see him coming out his freshman year after the grayshirt got dropped and put up some big numbers. He’s been a key guy for them, so it’s been fun to watch him.”
— Mark Singelais (@MarkSingelais) August 1, 2017