Iowa CITY, Iowa - Iowa loaded up at the wide receiver position in its 2013 recruiting class. A half dozen pass catchers comprised the group.
Lost in the shuffle is true sophomore Matt Vandeberg. Of course, that's standard for the South Dakota native.
Vandeberg was an afterthought entering last season. He signed as a gray shirt. The Iowa coaches called him less than a week before camp started and told him a scholarship had opened.
That would have been a nice story had it ended there. Vandeberg didn't let it. He passed all the other freshmen receivers and was the only one of them to play. He started two games and finished the season with eight catches for 59 yards.
"It was definitely a whirlwind. I jumped at the opportunity to join the team last summer but I didn't think I was going to do anything my first year. I was just going to red shirt. But I wanted to make sure I busted my butt every day in practice and it paid off," Vandeberg said.
At 6-foot-1, 175-pounds, Vandeberg lacks the look which causes scouts to drool. He probably could slide through Iowa City unnoticed as a football player.
What he lacks in aesthetics he makes up for with skill. He's sure-handed and runs precise routes.
"I knew I was at the bottom of the depth chart when I showed up. I was the last guy to get here so obviously I would have to work my way up. Knowing that I had to prove everybody wrong helped," he said.
Vandeberg saw his first action in a Week 2 win against Missouri State. He caught two passes for 17 yards in that contest.
"I was able to pick up the offense quickly. The older guys really helped me out. I can't take credit for anything. All of them really helped me understand the playbook and what I needed to do," Vandeberg said.
Vandeberg said his biggest adjustment came in absorbing the schemes, which he said dwarfed what he ran in high school. He also picked up technical aspects of the position that he felt would advance his game Year 2.
"Coach (Bobby) Kennedy has helped me a lot with that. Being able to know how get off of somebody who is pressing you; how to get off linebackers that are trying to get their hands on you; things like that; That's mainly where my development has come. (Strength) Coach (Chris) Doyle as well. His staff is unreal. You know you're going to get results if you train with him," he said.
Vandeberg operates comfortably in crowded areas in the middle of the field. It's great to have speed on the outside, but it is greatly enhanced by receivers who can get underneath and occupy defenders.
"My main mindset is that if that's my job, then I've got to do it. If coach feels comfortable enough to put me in there, I have to show that I can do it," he said.
Vandeberg earned elite all-state honors for his final two seasons at Brandon (SD) Valley High. He caught a school-record 35 touchdown passes in his prep career.
Still, Vandeberg achieved success in a sparsely populated state. Iowa was the only FBS school to offer him even a gray shirt opportunity.
"I was a two-star. I was a low recruit. I guess I use that to fuel the fire. I don't worry too much about size. Yeah, there are a lot of guys bigger than me but I know they feel comfortable that I can help the team win," he said.