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Familiar faces in trenches

Vanden Bosch, Nelson on opposite ends of spectrum

Posted September 2, 1999

By Jim Ecker
Gazette sportswriter

Related story: Nelson's diet nets 45 pounds

IOWA CITY -- Bruce Nelson has a 2-0 record against Kyle Vanden Bosch in their football wars over the years, but this is different.

This isn't Emmetsburg High School vs. West Lyon. This is Iowa vs. Nebraska, and the stakes are higher.

It looks like a mismatch: Nelson versus Vanden Bosch and the Hawkeyes versus the fifth-ranked Cornhuskers, in front of 70,397 fans at Kinnick Stadium.

Nelson arrived at Iowa last fall as a 225-pound tight end, a walk-on chasing a dream. Now he's grown into a 270-pound experiment at left tackle on a jerry-built offensive line, hoping for the best.

Vanden Bosch, a prep all-American, played for Nebraska as a freshman in 1997 when the Cornhuskers captured their third national title in four years. He has two years of major college experience and he's good.

So it's Nelson, a rookie, trying to block Vanden Bosch, Nebraska's rush right defensive end, in the first meeting between the schools in 17 years.

"I heard there was a walk-on playing tackle," said Vanden Bosch, perhaps salivating at the other end of the phone line. "I didn't know it was Nelson."

These guys knew each other in high school. Nelson earned his share of honors at Emmetsburg, making all-state and helping his team win a state title, but Vanden Bosch got the fancy scholarship offers from Nebraska, Kansas State, Iowa and Iowa State.

Nelson could have gotten a scholarship from UNI or a smaller school, but he was a Hawkeye fan. He wanted to play at Iowa, even as a walk-on.

"If I was successful at the lower level, I'd always wonder how I would have done at Iowa," he said. "It's not a gamble. If you grow up in Iowa, all you hear about are the Hawkeyes, the Hawkeyes.

"I wanted to try. I'm glad I did it."

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz took an instant shine to Nelson. He popped Nelson into the starting lineup at right guard last spring, then switched him to left tackle this summer to protect the quarterback's back. He also gave him a scholarship.

Nelson hasn't played a lick in a real game. Now he'll battle Vanden Bosch.

"He'll get knocked down a few times, but I'm confident he'll get back up and keep fighting," Ferentz said.

This is a big game for Nelson, but it's big for Vanden Bosch, too. He's played 24 straight games for the Cornhuskers the last two years, but the 6-4, 270-pound junior hasn't started at Nebraska yet. Now he will.

"I'm real excited," he said. "This is the game I've been looking forward to ever since I committed to Nebraska, coming back and playing versus Iowa. Being it's my first start makes it extra special."

Vanden Bosch could have been a Hawkeye. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry made a special effort to get him.

"He was the first one to offer me a scholarship," Vanden Bosch said. "It was a real thrill. I went in his office and he had his Hawkeye boots on and everything. He's a real legend."

Vanden Bosch lives in Larchwood in extreme northwest Iowa and took some good-natured ribbing when he signed with Nebraska. But there are Cornhusker fans in that part of the state, too.

"I couldn't be happier," he said. "I came in here as a freshman and played on special teams and we won a national championship. That's what I came here for."

Nelson is happy, too, even if his first assignment could be too much to handle.

"This is great," he said. "This is what it's all about. I'm glad we're playing a great team like Nebraska. It should be a lot of fun."

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