TAMPA, Fla. – Nick VanHoose lounges in a hammock near the beach in hot, sunny Florida.
It sounds like a dream come true for the average Champaign County native.
But for VanHoose, a Graham graduate and current Northwestern University standout defensive back, lounging isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
VanHoose injured a finger during practice a couple of weeks ago, tearing a tendon from the bone during a tackle. The injury, commonly referred to as “Jersey Finger” because it tends to happen when a player gets a finger caught in a jersey, will keep VanHoose sidelined for about six weeks, including 13th-ranked Northwestern’s (10-2) Outback Bowl game against #23 Tennessee (8-4) on New Year’s Day.
“It’s extremely disappointing. Obviously, I’d have loved to be playing with the boys one more time,” said the Wildcats’ senior. “But everything happens for a reason. Hopefully it will all work out.”
VanHoose, a leader in the Wildcats’ secondary, wouldn’t have been able to feel or bend his finger, something that would interfere with his ability to defend passes.
That’s a big deal for one of the nation’s best defensive backfields. Northwestern leads the nation with the fewest passing touchdowns allowed, despite being in the top 20 in passes attempted against its defense.
VanHoose himself has accounted for 12 passes defended, 3 interceptions and a forced fumble this season, to go along with 41 tackles.
That performance was enough to earn him a spot on the Second Team All-Big Ten squad, as well as an Honorable Mention on Sports Illustrated’s All-America team.
“It’s been great. I wanted to come out and do as much as possible to help the team win every single game,” VanHoose said. “I put in a lot more time in the film room and studying and trying to be the best teammate I can be. It’s my senior year. I wanted to end on a good note.”
The team still has a chance to make history. The Wildcats reached the 10-win plateau for only the fourth time ever in more than 125 years of football. Northwestern has never won 11 games, so a bowl victory would rewrite the record books.
VanHoose still has his sights set on football, though, despite not playing in his final collegiate contest.
He is preparing to begin training for the NFL draft as soon as his rehabiliation from injury is complete.
“Hopefully, I get invited to the draft combine. If not, I’ll just be training for my pro day,” VanHoose said. “Hopefully one of the 32 teams likes me enough to invite me to camp.”
That seems like a solid bet.
Dane Brugler, a reporter for NFLDraftScout.com, writes of VanHoose: “Although the physical traits aren’t ideal for the NFL transition, VanHoose has the instincts and toughness needed for the next level and is arguably the best cornerback in the conference.”
And if it doesn’t work out for VanHoose professionally? If he is indeed deemed “too small” for the NFL? He’s still got a degree at one of the most prestigous institutions in America.
“We’re STUDENT-athletes,” VanHoose said. “Student comes first. The great thing about Northwestern is to be able to get a great education and also get to play at a high level of football in the Big Ten. Northwestern does an amazing job preparing us, not only for games, but also for when football is over.
“Football is over for all of us at some point, and it’s always great to have that Northwestern degree in my back pocket.”
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.