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March 9, 2011

Vandervelde Chronicles

After taking a break to focus on the NFL Combine, Julian Vandervelde is back at the keyboard writing about his career as an Iowa Hawkeye Football player. In Chapter Two of The Vandervelde Chronicles, titled "Trial by Fire", the redshirt freshman finds himself thrust into the starting lineup much earlier than he expected. He talks about a season that didn't go as well as everyone had hoped.

Chapter 2: Trial by Fire

My second year as a Hawkeye really started when I was informed a week in advance that I would be going into training camp as the starting right guard. Keep in mind please that my perception of myself was not, and still isn't, remarkably high. I still see myself mostly as a fat kid from Davenport Iowa who God likes for reasons unbeknown to me. I was expecting to be a scout team player for three years, work my way into the two deep as a junior, then maybe push for a starting sport my senior year. That seemed reasonable if you'll recall the ridiculously highly touted and talented o-line recruiting class from the year ahead of me. So to receive the previously aforementioned news of my sudden rise was sobering to say the least...

I don't really remember many concrete details about my second year. A little more than my first, but the shock of starting in the Big Ten before I'd really come to accept the fact that I was ready blurred much of the experience. These first three years of college I was going through some of the most extreme changes off the field that would prepare me for the challenges of my junior year and successes of my senior year, forging me into the confident, skilled, eloquent young man I am today. But we won't get into all that...

After nearly having a nervous breakdown in camp following a night that consisted of two hours of sleep and four hours of pacing, a night which began with a nightmare where I got then-quarterback Jake Christiansen killed; my first on-field epiphany was delivered by our center Rafael Eubanks. He told me that if I couldn't do it, then the coaches wouldn't have me in that spot. Sounds simple, yes? I've always been an outside-the-box thinker, an instinctual mover. Common sense is not always my strong suit, so for me that was a blow-your-mind moment. That was also my last nightmare. As my faith developed, I would come to know that all I can do is my best and trust that God would give me the strength to do what he wanted me to do. But again, we won't get into my off-field development...

The 2007 season, as most Hawk fans will remember, was not the highlight of the Kirk Ferentz era. We were young, we were sloppy, and we were not the typical Hawks of today. But one thing has never changed about Iowa teams, we never gave up. Game by game we got closer and we got better. We had some nasty losses, but we had some great wins too. I remember Illinois that year, coming in at the mid-point of their Rose Bowl run, and getting their chest kicked in by some angry Hawks. That was the first time I played in what I have come to call a "Lord of the Rings game". You see, as my fellow nerds will recognize, Kinnick Stadium is a lot like Mordor, and as they say in the Lord of the Rings books, "one does not simply walk into Mordor." Every now and then a hobbit will slip in and drop a ring into a volcano walking out with a win. However, the bigger the army, the less likely they are to come out of Kinnick alive. Remember that term, because it will come up again in every subsequent chapter...

There was no bowl game that year. There was only the horror of the hundred squats (which I would like to note put NO ONE in the hospital), the sadness of sitting at home and watching other teams play bowl games, and the feeling of failure in terms of maintaining the Hawkeye legacy. That winter was necessary. That winter changed my life and the lives of my teammates. We went into that winter embarrassed and hurt. We came out of it as the men who would lead the Hawkeyes to a record 3 straight bowl wins.


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