Football: VanHoose shines in starring role

Rafi Letzter/The Daily Northwestern

Rohan Nadkarni, Assistant Sports Editor

Nick VanHoose and Denzel Washington have more in common than their rugged good looks.

The redshirt freshman cornerback and legendary movie star also share a taste for acting, with VanHoose making the discovery recently.

“I’m going to switch my major to communications,” said VanHoose, formerly listed as undecided while toiling away in Weinberg. VanHoose said  he would want Washington to play him in a movie.

The Urbana, Ohio native discovered his acting talent when he took Analysis and Performance of Literature. VanHoose’s first performance, an interpretation of the song “I’m Just a Kid at Heart,” spurred his interest in the dramatic.

But VanHoose’s primary love remains football. He’s started every game so far this season at cornerback for Northwestern, after also playing some running back in high school. And although VanHoose thinks he could make a good slot receiver, his services in the secondary have been invaluable.

In 2011, NU finished last in the Big Ten and 71st in the country for pass defense. The secondary last year, even with senior leaders Jordan Mabin and Brian Peters, often sunk the performance of the team. This year, the team went with a new look in the defensive backfield, introducing VanHoose, transfer Quinn Evans and freshman Traveon Henry, resulting in a stingier unit.

“I just wanted to do whatever I could to help the team,” VanHoose said of his situation last season, when he sat out due to his redshirt. “But it wasn’t my time yet.”

VanHoose’s time came this season. He’s often matched up with the opponent’s best receiver, a testament to his skills as a pure cover corner.

“I’ve just gotten a lot better,” VanHoose said of his success this season. “In my first game, I was just trying not to get beat. After a while you get comfortable, and you start gaining confidence.”

Unfortunately for VanHoose, no amount of confidence could keep him on the field against Vanderbilt, when he left the game after the second play due to injury.

“I hated it so much,” VanHoose said. “I knew I could be out there helping. That’s the worst possible feeling.”

VanHoose notched two passes defended and two breakups in his first four games of the season. But the redshirt freshman knows he still needs to go a long way, even if he doesn’t necessarily believe he will try to go pro when he graduates.

“I just want to be the best football player I can be,” VanHoose said. “If that means I’m good enough to go pro, that’s great; otherwise, I’m not worried about it.”

But VanHoose’s football future was in question before it even started. He admitted to considering quitting the team in the beginning of his freshman year, before even taking a snap.

Like many NU students, VanHoose found it difficult to juggle school, his social life and his extracurricular activities. Ultimately, VanHoose decided to stick with football — but not before some serious soul searching.

“It was tough,” VanHoose said. “I didn’t know how I was going to balance everything. I really thought I would quit, but I finally decided to stick with it.”

The Cats will need VanHoose’s full effort more than ever Saturday, when the Cats play their first Big Ten match against Indiana. With the team sporting a 4-0 record, this could be the year NU makes a run to the conference championship game, a goal highlighted on a board in its team meeting room.

Even head coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged the team will be asking more of VanHoose as the most important games of the season come.

“Nick’s been pretty consistent,” Fitzgerald said. “(But) here we go now in Big Ten play. We’ll see how he plays moving forward. But so far, so good in his first four tests.”