Exit Interview: Nick Vanderboom

In this latest installment of our Exit Interview series, WeAreSC sits down with Nick Vanderboom to discuss various elements of his USC career and his future in the real estate industry:

Nick, thanks for being here with us today. You come all the way from Minnesota. What attracted you to USC?

It was a few things. Honestly, it was about the only west coast school I was looking at. I really thought I was going to an Ivy League school like Harvard or Penn, or one of those schools. They were recruiting a teammate of mine, Dominique Byrd, and they asked me if I wanted to come and walk on, so I came to spring practice. With the coaches, I just got such a good feeling being in practice and interacting with the other guys on the team, and that helped me decide it was the right place for me.

You had the opportunity to go to Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. What made you choose USC over those schools?

Football was definitely part of it. It's still competitive at those schools, but there are no playoffs. It's you and the Ivy League, and that's it. I thought I could compete at this level. Also, USC has a good undergraduate business school, which is what I wanted to do.

How much of an impact did Dominique Byrd have on your decision to come to USC?

Not really that much. I almost didn't want to come here to follow him. It was great having him here, and then we ended up playing in the same position. It's fun to have someone from high school with you in the locker room and on the field with you.

Talk about the transition from Minneapolis.

I adjusted pretty quickly. I was excited to live somewhere else in a new city. I really love it here. One tough part was that about three days into camp my freshman year, I chipped a bone in my knee and had to have arthroscopic surgery. I was on crutches and couldn't play for two months. That was kind of tough, because I didn't really know anyone. My mom was ready to fly out here and take care of me, but I adjusted quickly, and I love being out here.

A lot of people don't know much about the walk-on recruitment process. Talk about your experience.

Coach Kiffin had come up to recruit Dominique a couple of times and had met with me also, telling me that it could be a great opportunity to run the scout team and get to play a lot. Coach Carroll also came out and told me that they'd like to have me come out. So basically, for the guys who get recruited to walk on, you show up. I didn't have to try out. They had seen all of my high school stuff, had seen me play. Once you're here, I don't think you're really different from anyone else on the team.

We understand that Coach Carroll regularly takes time to work with the walk-ons. While you were a walk-on, can you point to anything Coach Carroll worked on with you to help make you a better player?

Definitely. One thing I can say about Coach Carroll is that he's not going to treat you differently, regardless of how much you play, or if you're on scholarship or a walk-on. I remember a couple days into freshman camp, none of the linemen were centers, and so Fred Matua was playing center, and we were fumbling the snap about every other play, for three days before the rest of the team showed up. Coach was definitely getting on me because having a fumbled snap every other play was messing up the practice. He told me, "Look, you're not going to fumble a snap again." So I went up there, was pretty nervous, and got it right the next play. Then I'm walking back to the huddle, and all of a sudden, someone jumps on my back, and starts hitting me on the helmet and it's Coach Carroll. (Laughs.) After practice, when I was still playing quarterback, he would work with me, getting me to work on my release. He brought Sark over when he was the quarterbacks coach. He's definitely always finding ways to make anyone better.

Talk about the other coaches you had while you were at quarterback, like Coach Sarkisian and Coach Chow.

Coach Sark was the quarterbacks coach when I was at quarterback. I learned a lot from him. He's really intense, demands a lot, but definitely respects you when you accomplish what he's getting after. Coach Chow was just a really great guy too. He would pop his head in the meetings and explain something that we were having trouble with or something new that we were going to try. He was a really good leader of the offense.

You ended up moving from quarterback to tight end. How did that move come about?

It was a week before spring ball my freshman year, and we were playing basketball as a team in the North Gym. We were split up by class. So it was me, Dallas Sartz, Mike Williams, Kyle Williams, and Hershel Dennis, and we just dominated. We beat the whole team. Coach Chow saw me playing and liked my athleticism. I got called in the next day, which was a couple of days before spring ball started. They asked me if I wanted to try to switch to tight end. It wasn't forced. At the time there were only a couple of tight ends. Alex Holmes was hurt, so it was really just Dominique Byrd and Gregg Guenther, and I would get a chance to play more if I made the switch. I gave it a try and never went back.

And you ended up earning a scholarship in the fall of 2004. Talk about the moment you found out.

It was about ten days into camp in my redshirt sophomore year. Someone had hinted it to me a few days before that it might be coming, and to keep going well. I was really having a good camp. Dominique Byrd and Alex Holmes were hurt, so I was playing a ton. They had an extra scholarship and in the meeting that night Coach Carroll said, "One of our guys is getting paid now," and that was definitely a great feeling. Really rewarding after that couple of years of hard work.

How was it like playing with tight ends like Alex Holmes, Dominique Byrd, Fred Davis?

They're all good guys, good players. We had fun in all of our meetings and on the field. Brennan Carroll is pretty close in age to all of us. He does a really good job and is fun to be around. We had a good time in the meetings and on the field. I definitely enjoyed playing with them.

How about the future of the tight end position at USC?

We have a lot of guys who all can play. Fred Davis is the main guy in that group. He is so athletic and really talented, a great blocker, and can catch the ball and break tackles. Dale Thompson is a solid blocker but can also catch some balls. Definitely a good player. Anthony McCoy, we started calling him our red zone weapon last year. Every time we got down in the red zone he started catching touchdowns and they started going to him a lot. He's a good player, really athletic, can go up and get a ball up high. Jimmy Miller is also a really solid player, just all around, can catch the ball, block. All four of them can play for us. We're so deep.

You are very well respected by the coaches, and are known as a very smart player.

When you're quarterback you have to know what you're doing and what everyone else is doing on the field. So coming from quarterback, I think every other position is easy. (Laughs.) They put a lot on the quarterback. I was struggling taking in the whole offense as a freshman. It takes a couple of years to really get it, but I think coming from playing quarterback, calling a lot of plays from the line in high school, and being used to thinking fast about the plays and what everyone else is doing, helped make it easier to switch to tight end.

What's your favorite play here at USC?

One of the plays I was most excited about but it didn't work out was in the Colorado State game my redshirt sophomore year. All the other tight ends were hurt and we put in this flea flicker to the tight end. I'm not very fast and I'll be the first to admit it, but they called the flea flicker to me. I was so excited. I thought I was going to be wide open because all week in practice I was wide open, forty, fifty yards downfield, catching touchdowns, and it didn't work out so much. (Laughs.) But there's another play in that game that was one of my favorite plays. I just blocked out on someone, put him on his back, and LenDale ran behind me into the endzone. I had a picture in the LA Times of LenDale in the endzone and me coming up behind him with my arms up and the Peristyle in the background. I'll take that as the best play.

Your favorite game.

It would probably be a tie between the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma and the 2005 Notre Dame game. That was just unbelievable. It seemed that the game was over, and then Dwayne caught that pass and we all ran out onto the field. And then when Matt scored, it was just insane. There is no better feeling than being in the locker room after that game. None of us could believe it.

You have one of the highest GPA's on the team. How difficult was it to maintain a high GPA with the busy football schedule?

It's tough. You need to put a lot of time in, especially during the season. We have so little time with all of the work-outs and meetings and extra time you need on your own. If you really want to be successful, you need to come in a lot on your own and watch film, so it's really hard for guys to keep their grades up. I was well prepared. I went to a good high school. I didn't plan on playing in the NFL. I loved playing here, but if that happened, great, if not, I was definitely going to get the most of my education.

So it's probably safe to assume you're graduating?

I graduated last year from undergrad after four years. I got a business degree with a concentration in real estate development. I started grad school two weeks after. Now I'm in the masters of real estate development program, which I will graduate from in May. So I get another graduation. (Smiles.)

You're not training for the NFL?

I thought about doing the combine because I tested pretty well last year. But I just didn't have the time. I had to choose between either working out three hours a day and really focusing on that and taking a couple of classes, or taking this seven class load and graduating and moving on to what's next in my life. There was no way I would have had time to do both. While it would have been fun to do the combine, I just don't see the NFL as my future. I wanted to finish grad school and do interviews.

What's next after getting the masters degree?

I plan on staying here long term. I am interviewing with a lot of developers based in Los Angeles. I am interested in doing urban development in Los Angeles. I think as the population continues to grow, there are so many opportunities in real estate development. I am not focused on one product type, but I'd like to be doing stuff within cities, taking those missing pieces of undeveloped land or things that need to be redeveloped that are beyond repair and have a better use. There's a lot of stuff happening along transit corridors. I am interviewing right now, with a couple of big, national companies that have a strong presence in Los Angeles.

What are some of the memories you'll take with you as you graduate from USC?

There are so many memories. From the road trips with the teammates, to all of the Bowl games. They have activities lined up for you at the bowl games. Those were fun times. Also there are the summer workouts and all of the work to prepare for the season. All those hours just to get ready for 12 or 13 games. I'd still come back and see everyone. It hasn't hit me yet that I'm not on the team anymore. I think it will hit me next season, because I've never been to a game in the Coliseum that I wasn't playing in.

Talk about the memories you have of Mario Danelo.

He didn't really let anything get him down. Even if he missed a kick, guys would come up to him, and he'd be fine. His head was always in it. I remember my most recent memory of him was during the Rose Bowl prep, we went over to his room and he was rooming with Will Collins and they were playing FIFA on their X-box, and he was so excited, just doing something like that. He had a lot of passion for anything he was doing, and was just a lot of fun to be around. He was a great guy. He was always smiling.

Any departing words to the Trojan fans reading this interview?

Thanks for all of the support. It's been amazing watching the fan base grow. It's amazing how intense and supportive all of the fans are. They are always everywhere. From being there at the Trojan walk, to showing up at practice. It's great to know that so many people are excited and care about what you are doing. Thank you.


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