September 14, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg might have stumbled upon the best possible way to settle one's nerves before proposing marriage.

Play, star in and win a game at home over your hated rivals.

Wait five minutes - and then pop the question.

VandeBerg's strategy worked like to perfection in the aftermath of last weekend's 42-3 win over Iowa State.

VandeBerg had arguably the best game of his life, catching seven passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. But all that was quickly forgotten once his girlfriend of just over a year, former Iowa student Laura Bulanda, accepted his proposal from the stands.

''I've known she's the one for a while. It's just a matter of making sure she knows,'' VandeBerg said.

In a way, it is ironic that VandeBerg's iconic moment had very little to do with football.

Like many of Iowa's best players, past and present, VandeBerg had to put in years of work when few were looking just for a shot at real playing time.

VandeBerg was lightly-recruited out of Brandon Valley High in South Dakota, largely because his frame was so light to begin with. Intrigued by the program's reputation for turning unheralded prospects into All-Big Ten type players, VandeBerg signed with the Hawkeyes as almost a footnote back in the winter of 2013.

But VandeBerg, now 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, showed enough potential to play sparingly as a freshman and sophomore, catching 22 passes.

''If the coaches are willing to bring me here and put their trust in me, I need to put trust in myself that I can play at this level,'' VandeBerg said.

With defenses keyed on Tevaun Smith and his relationship with new starting quarterback C.J. Beathard growing with every practice, VandeBerg emerged in 2015 as one of the unlikeliest standouts on perhaps the nation's most surprisingly successful team.

VandeBerg overcame his lack of size with an uncanny ability to get open, consistently finding the soft spot in the defense as a slot receiver.

He finished with 65 receptions, the second-most ever by an Iowa player, and earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors.

''He's one of the hardest workers on the team. He does it day in, day out,'' Beathard said. ''Everyone on the team has a ton of respect for him. He's just a smart player. We know he's going to be where he needs to be at the right time. And he's a guy that, if he makes a mistake, nobody has to say anything to him because he's going to beat himself up over that more than anybody else will.''

With Smith now in the NFL, VandeBerg has taken over as Iowa's No. 1 receiver.

Through two games, he's on pace for one of the great seasons in school history. VandeBerg is averaging over 20 yards a catch in 2016, including a nifty 12-yard TD reception against the Cyclones.

''The guy is a ball of energy,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

That VandeBerg was able to have the best performance as a Hawkeyes ahead the most important moment of his life is perhaps his biggest accomplishment yet.

VandeBerg tried not to tell anyone what he had planned for Saturday, likely because such a moment would've been overshadowed had the Hawkeyes lost.

But VandeBerg couldn't help himself, telling Beathard and a few others of his plan.

Beathard, in turn, joked to VandeBerg that the only reasons he threw so many passes to him against Iowa State was to make sure Laura said yes.

''With news like that, you've got to tell some of your buddies,'' VandeBerg said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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Online: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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