Vandenburgh writes final chapter at ISU that serves as career-ending masterpiece

Zeke Vandenburgh (5) finished his Illinois State career third all-time in school history in sacks (24) and tackles for loss (43.5). He was honored Saturday during Senior Day events in Normal. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

NORMAL – Western Illinois head coach Myers Hendrickson had only seen Zeke Vandenburgh on film before the Leathernecks played at Illinois State on Saturday.

That was enough for him to heap praise on the Redbirds’ senior linebacker during a pregame chat with ISU head coach Brock Spack.

“I told Coach Spack before the game that I think he’s the best defensive player in the (Missouri Valley Football Conference),” Hendrickson said. “He’s an unbelievable player.”

Hendrickson and the Leathernecks got an eyeful of Vandenburgh in the Redbirds’ 20-13 overtime win as ISU’s Jack linebacker collected career highs in tackles (17), sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (four) in his final college game.

When the NCAA website updated its final stats Sunday morning, Vandenburgh finished No. 1 among FCS players with 14 sacks and 1.4 sacks per game. He also led the nation in tackles for loss per game (2.1) and was second in total TFLs at 21, one behind Central Arkansas sophomore defensive end David Walker and Duqesne junior linebacker Todd Hill, who had 22.

Leading the nation in sacks, according to Vandenburgh, is a highlight to add to his impressive accomplishments.

“That’d be awesome,” he said after Saturday’s game. “It’s good to see all the work over the years pay off.”

“If he’s not the player of the year defensively in our league, I don’t know who is,” Spack said. “I think that would put him in the conversation nationally too.”

Vandenburgh was one of 21 defensive players added to the Buck Buchanan Award midseason watch list. The honor is given to the best defensive player annually in FCS.

Spack said an off-season talk early in Vandenburgh’s career led to his senior success.

“I didn’t know if he was going to get here a couple years ago,” Spack said. “We had a summer afternoon that we spent in my office, about three hours, and we went through an evaluation of him. He really took to heart some of the suggestions. I’m very proud of how he’s finished his career.”

Vandenburgh’s senior season has also included being a three-time MVFC Defensive Player of the Week. (The league will announce this week’s winners Nov. 21.)

“Zeke has had three Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Week (honors), and you never heard him talk about it,” ISU redshirt freshman running back Wenkers Wright said. “He’s the most humble guy you would ever meet. Nobody likes a cocky person. Zeke is just a top-notch dude.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse has a locker next to Vandenburgh at ISU.

“He’s an incredible role model,” Rittenhouse said. “I look up to him in a lot of ways. Great teammate, great person, great friend. He doesn’t say too much, but his individual success shows how good of a player he is.”

The ISU senior’s play drew rave reviews Saturday from opponents as well.

“That guy’s a baller,” Western junior linebacker Juan DelaCruz said. “He’s all over the field, and he’s a pretty good kid. I love seeing him out there making plays, but you hate him when he’s on the opposing team.”

Potential conference and national awards could add to Vandenburgh’s resume over the weeks and months to come, along with possible all-star game invitations. The Hula Bowl, for example, announced Saturday that four FCS players accepted bids to play in its game, which is planned for Jan. 14 in Orlando.

But Vandenburgh’s plans for the off-season are unclear.

“I have no idea,” he said Saturday. “I’m just going to enjoy this win tonight.”

2 responses to “Vandenburgh writes final chapter at ISU that serves as career-ending masterpiece”

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