IOWA CITY, Iowa — Matt VandeBerg experienced déjà vu. He just didn’t know it.
The Iowa wide receiver first broke his left foot running a route during a drill in September. He did it again last winter, but he didn’t find out for 2 1/2 weeks because the pain was tolerable.
“Same type of injury,” VandeBerg said. “Same spot. Everything was down to the same thing.”
Now that he is close to 100 percent for summer workouts, VandeBerg is making one change. He doesn’t want a third foot injury to occur, so he’s spending the next two months trying to find a way to ensure that he stays on the field and out of a walking boot.
“I have to focus on what I can do better in those situations to not put myself in that situation,” VandeBerg said.
There is no magic answer. The senior has tried to find it — unsuccessfully. Iowa placed inserts in his shoe to help his feet.
He is spending his summer studying tape of his running style coming off the ball and in and out of breaks. He is hoping changes to how he runs routes will ensure he doesn’t need to see the training staff during the season.
“I am not going to tell you I know exactly what I did wrong,” VandeBerg said, “but the more I look at it the more I’ll be able to figure out what it is I need to change.”
It frustrates VandeBerg that he can’t pinpoint the problem. He first went down before the Rutgers game, missing the rest of the 2016 season.
He rehabbed and Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz raved about his progress in advance of the Outback Bowl, suggesting VandeBerg could play if he wasn’t seeking a medical redshirt.
Then he re-injured his foot and started the rehab process again, missing spring practice in the process.
“Any time you deal with setbacks it’s not fun,” VandeBerg said. “That makes the fact I’m back that much sweeter.”
The Hawkeyes certainly need him. VandeBerg broke out last September, catching 10 passes for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns in 4 games before suffering his season-ending injury.
The return of a playmaker
Without VandeBerg, Iowa’s aerial attack never got off the ground last season. The other receivers struggled to get open and make plays. The Hawkeyes finished 118th nationally in passing.
The first step to a more productive season from the receivers is ensuring VandeBerg suits up. His value extends beyond his stats line. Wide receiver is a young, inexperienced position, and VandeBerg is needed to lead by example.
“He brings a lot of things to the table,” said guard Sean Welsh. “There is obviously his skill set on the football side of it, but I think he brings a lot of it from the leadership side of it, too. The guy is by far one of our best leaders on the team.”
VandeBerg says his job is to block, get open and catch passes. He tries to keep it simple.
Outside of altering his route-running, VandeBerg doesn’t think he needs to change anything to ensure he plays in all 12 games. He will still push himself in practice. It wasn’t a problem his first three seasons with the Hawkeyes. He hopes it won’t be in his final one.