IOWA CITY, Iowa — Zeeland West alum Zach VanValkenburg has been on an incredible journey over the past four years.
"It's been crazy when you look back on every year," VanValkenburg said, "every step of the way, it just came down to whatever I was doing at that moment and doing it the best I could, things have really worked out for me."
After graduating from high school in 2016, VanValkenburg went on to play football at Hillsdale College where he blossomed into a dominant player.
In fact, VanValkenburg was named Great Midwest Athletic Conference defensive lineman of the year in 2018 but he excelled off of the field as well.
"I took a lot of AP courses in high school," VanValkenburg explained, "I tried to take a lot of credits at Hillsdale, too, so I ended up graduating in three years."
That opened the door for him to become a graduate transfer and play Division-I football. After three seasons at Hillsdale, he found his home in Iowa City.
"I was talking to a lot of Mid-American Conference schools but I was kind of in the mindset of if I was playing in the Big Ten then it was going to be a tough uphill road," he said, "I was going to have to work really hard if I wanted to see the field."
But hard work was nothing new for the Zeeland West product and he quickly proved himself.
Now, VanValkenburg is having an outstanding senior season for the Hawkeyes with 3.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in five games, but things are much different from Hillsdale.
"Obviously from a football perspective things are bigger here, the players are faster, all that kind of stuff, the school is bigger, town is bigger, Hillsdale had 1,300 students, so I pretty much knew everyone on campus, that's not really possible here."
On the field, he's fifth in the Big Ten in sacks but he's also getting his Master's Degree and is setting himself up for the future, whether football is involved or not.
"I'd love to play in the NFL but if not, or after, I would love to go to Law School and do something with that," VanValkenburg added, "maybe work in the state department or CIA, something with international relations."
VanValkenburg and the Hawkeyes will host Nebraska on Friday, the game can be seen on FOX 17 with kickoff slated for 1 PM.