Last year, VanHoose emerged as Northwestern's best cornerback. With that came even loftier personal expectations for the 2013 season—ones that weren't immediately met.
"I would say at the beginning of the season, I was in a slump," VanHoose said. "I'm slowly trying to work my way back up to how it was last year."
After Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury against California, the secondary gradually crumbled. Redshirt freshman Dwight White always seemed vulnerable, but even more surprisingly, VanHoose struggled to match his past performances.
"My whole life, I've had really high expectations," VanHoose said, and that caused some internal struggle.
As the most talented player in this shallow group of corners–a quality that quickly came to light–VanHoose was frequently labeled one of the team's most valuable players. The season began with a win, but also with a porous game from the cornerback position.
"Mentally, I feel like I wasn't prepared enough for the Cal game," VanHoose told PurpleWildcats.com just days after the road victory.
With this admission came his trademark maturity: Of course, VanHoose made the necessary corrections and shored up his play. He was generally stout against Iowa—part of NU's impressive defense of late.
"The defense as a whole, I think we had a pretty solid game," VanHoose said. "It starts with the D-line and works back to the DBs."
And so they improved. VanHoose–still only a sophomore–credited an incredible group of senior leaders. He said that Tyler Scott, Damien Proby and Ibraheim Campbell have been crucial factors in keeping the defense focused.
As the offense labored through three straight disappointing games, the Wildcats held strong on defense. They held Iowa to 10 points in regulation, adjusting well after giving up a touchdown on the opening drive. Even true freshman Matt Harris was solid in his first career start. ("Kid can play," VanHoose said.)
Asked about the prevailing locker room message, VanHoose offered a brief summary:
"It can be done."
Northwestern can recover from its four-game losing streak, just like VanHoose recovered from his slump.
When you fall short of expectations, it's not too late to redefine your season.