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2023 NFL Draft Prospect Interview: Ezekiel Vandenburgh, Edge, Illinois State University

Ezekiel Vandenburgh, Edge, Illinois State University
Ezekiel Vandenburgh the star pass rusher from Illinois State University recently sat down with Justin Berendzen of NFL Draft Diamonds.
  • Name: Ezekiel Vandenburgh
  • Position: Edge
  • College: Illinois State University
  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 240 lbs
  • Twitter: @5zekiel
  • Instagram: @ezekiel_vandenburgh

What are your favorite moments from your football life?

My top football moments would have to be the playoff run in 2019 and last season’s game against UNI. There’s nothing like playoff football and that 2019 defense was special. I have a similar feeling about our defense this year. Our game against UNI last year was at the peak of the Trevor Penning hype and UNI was arguably the hottest team in FCS football coming off two wins vs ranked opponents. We shut them down on our home field and I had the best game of my career versus a 1st round talent.

What sets you apart from other edge rushers?

I think I’m difficult to prepare for because of my versatility. As an outside linebacker in our 3-4 system, I do a lot of different things. I can play the flat, the seam, play man, rush inside, rush the edge, etc. And I think I do a good job of making everything look the same pre-snap. But the main thing that separates me is my preparation. Towards the end of a game week, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get pre-snap when the offense lines up, based on the personnel and formation.

If you could hang out with any football player past or present for a day who and why?

It would have to be Demario Davis. I met him in Florida during a Christian conference called Mini-Camp for college football players. He provided a lot of wisdom during the week that has changed my life.

Who is the most underrated player you’ve played with and why?

Jason Lewan for sure. He hasn’t had his break out year yet because he was battling an injury last season, but when he’s healthy I think he’s unblockable.

How do you prepare for games?

I’ll start preparing by watching the opponent’s last couple games to get a feel for the quarterback play and OL’s tendencies. Once the scouting report is ready, I’ll study that throughout the week. Usually by the end of Wednesday of game week I’ll have a few pages of notes from meetings with the coaches, and I’ll be ready to do my own breakdown. The rest of the week I’ll break down the all plays cut up by personnel and formation. I’ll write out all their top formations and list the different plays I can get from each. After studying my notes, I’ll watch a few more games and by then I’m able to anticipate what the offense will do each snap. Late Friday and early Saturday is all visualization.

What should we know about Ezekiel Vandenburgh the person?

I am most passionate about building the kingdom of God and sharing the love of Jesus Christ. God has changed my life over the past couple years and nothing compares to the joy of the Lord. Football doesn’t even come close.

What is your favorite defensive scheme and why?

I really like how we play our cover 3 match. We have multiple checks based on the formation the offense gives us. So theoretically we can’t be wrong. When we bring pressure it’s even better. Our creepers out of our nickel package are pretty deadly.

What made you decide you wanted to be a football player?

My dad was a coach so I grew up going to high school practices. Football was always my family’s favorite. I just really love the physical nature of the game. You can run full speed into other person and it’s legal.

How do you handle challenges both in life and on the football field?

In life I turn to Jesus and cast my anxieties onto him. And my family is so supportive of me. I can reach out to my parents about anything. On the football field, I have words and phrases that I repeat to stay in the zone. There were a few times last year where I felt unstoppable. When challenges arise on the field, I try to get in that same headspace as when I felt unstoppable.

What would a team get in a player like you?

They will get a player who sets the standard in every aspect of preparation. They’ll get a vocal leader who invests into his teammates and tries to bring out the best in everyone. And they’ll get a playmaker who will eventually be the best at his position. I can’t promise I’ll be the best my first year but I’ll consistently outwork everyone and continue to transform into a great player. I don’t know if it’s because we didn’t have a good record last year that our players don’t get as much love, but I believe I’m the best player at my position in the FCS. Turn on our game against the defending champs. I felt like the best player on the field.

What are you looking forward to in your upcoming season?

I’m excited to play with Keondre Jackson. We went to the same high school and he earned a starting spot in the spring. It’s really exciting to have multiple Freeport guys on the same defense. I’m also excited for our first game against Wisconsin. It’s a great opportunity and a great environment to play in.

What is a moment that improved you as a football player?

I reviewed my tape from the 2021 spring season with my head coach and that film session really helped me improve as a football player. He was brutally honest about my weaknesses and also told me about the strides I needed to take in terms of being a leader. I reflect on that day often.


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