A quick overview of the Packers' fourth selection in the 2017 NFL draft, Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – The kid used to throw his green-and-gold jersey over the fence at Ray Nitschke Field. He hoped Brett Favre or A.J. Hawk would be standing there to catch it, sign it and toss it back. They were his heroes. Like any boy growing up in central Wisconsin.
Turned out, the kid could play some football, too. He made a name for himself at Lincoln High, a four-star recruit. When college time came, he chose the state’s university, just a two-hour drive south, so his family could watch him play.
The NFL was his ultimate goal. First, he wanted to be a Badger. The kid stayed all four seasons at Wisconsin, always keeping an eye on the professional franchise just up the road. He watched the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoons, because that’s what people in Wisconsin do.
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After games, he’d call Dad. They discussed similarities between his defense and theirs.
Never did Vince Biegel think their defense would become his.
“I dreamed about being a Wisconsin Badger first,” he said.
Over time, Biegel started catching on. He knows the Packers personnel. Their need for an outside linebacker to rush the passer was no secret to him. When their front office showed up to his Wisconsin pro day, he took it as a promising sign.
Then communication stopped.
Biegel barely heard from the Packers over the past month. They asked for his cell phone number just in case, but that was it. There were no signs Saturday morning something would change.
“He didn’t really think it was going to be the Packers,” Rocky said.
On his family’s cranberry marsh in Wisconsin Rapids, Friday night’s disappointment lingered. Biegel expected to be drafted by the end of the third round. He watched other Big Ten players drafted in the third round. He wasn’t drafted in the third round.
Biegel figured Saturday’s wait wouldn’t be long. Teams with picks in the early fourth round were calling, telling him to be ready. The Packers weren’t among them. Biegel was like many Packers fans, thinking they’d start the fourth round drafting a running back.
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As the fourth round started, Rocky flipped to the NFL Network’s draft coverage. The Packers were on the clock.
And Vince Biegel’s cell phone rang not 30 seconds later.
“We were sitting there,” Rocky told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, “and then all the sudden when the Packers went on the clock, boom, he got a phone call. Usually, you’re a team or two behind the team that’s actually picking that’s going to give you the call. It was the Packers, and when he said Ted Thompson (was on the phone), I said, ‘Oh, this is going to be them. This is pretty awesome.’”
Rocky stood in his home, watching his son talk to his favorite team’s general manager, his mind flashing back to Vince’s childhood.
To the training camp trips to Green Bay, where a lineman rode his son’s bike to practice, his weight compressing a flat tire. To all those autographs after practices. To watching the Badgers’ walkthrough inside Lambeau Field last season before playing LSU, seeing his son explore the historic stadium.
It was around that time Rocky considered the future. His son is a Green Bay Packer, drafted No. 108 overall. A pick that took a lifetime to arrive.
“If you looked at old pictures of me growing up,” Vince Biegel said, “it was all green and gold. I was a Cheesehead, and I was as probably the most Wisconsin as you can be. So to be able to say I played Wisconsin football in high school football, college football and now in the NFL, this is every Wisconsin kid’s dream.”
This isn’t just a feel-good story of a local boy playing for his state’s favorite team. No, football is what matters most in the draft. The Packers will sell plenty of Vince Biegel jerseys to fans inside their state.
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It won’t matter much if Biegel doesn’t boost their pass rush.
But football schematics made Rocky Biegel even happier to see the Packers draft his son. He’s a former college linebacker who knows the game. In Green Bay, Rocky believes, his son found a system that will help him flourish in the NFL.
Without knowing it, Vince prepared for his upcoming transition into the Packers' defense for years. He remembers former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s trips up to Green Bay, where Aranda met with Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The Badgers, Rocky said, implemented a lot of the Packers’ base 3-4 defense into their system.
“We’ll sit down when we’re watching the games,” Rocky said, “and we’ll just talk about what they’re doing defensively. They’ll run a blitz, or they’ll run some exotic look or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘That’s this package in our defense.’”
The Packers kept their eye on Biegel, too.
Alonzo Highsmith, their senior personnel executive, was among members of the Packers' front office at the Badgers pro day. He saw the same tenacity that shows up on film carry over to his workouts.
Biegel wasn’t Wisconsin’s most productive pass rusher last season. Opposite T.J. Watt, his four sacks as a senior could be overlooked. Highsmith said the decline of vertical passing offenses in college football limited Biegel’s sack production. More two-step drops allow less time to reach the quarterback, he said.
In the NFL, the Packers expect Biegel to provide more pressure.
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“I think he’s a good pass rusher,” Highsmith said. “I think he has a knack of getting to the quarterback. You know, there’s a whole bunch of different traits in getting to the quarterback. There’s no single-defined rate of it than just speed and tenacity. I think he’s got a little bit of both.
“He played next to T.J. Watt, who's an excellent football player, but I think he had his own identity. I thought he made a name for himself.”
Biegel’s workout numbers certainly help. At 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, he shares Matthews’ height and ran an identical 4.67-second dash. Biegels’ 1.64-second, 10-yard split didn’t match Matthews’ otherworldly 1.49 from the 2009 combine, but few edge rushers do.
Highsmith dumped cold water on any comparisons between Biegel and Matthews, understandably. No fourth-round pick needs to be measured against a six-time Pro Bowler who will become the franchise’s official all-time sacks leader this fall.
But all the years Biegel watched the Packers, he said Matthews long has been a model he has used to mold the way he plays.
“That’s a frequently asked question,” Biegel said, “that I’ve got a lot in this process, at the combine and pro day and Senior Bowl, and I’ve said that I try to conduct myself and take parts of my game from every player, and one of them is Clay Matthews. I have a ton of respect for Clay. I have a ton of respect for what he does as player, his big-play capabilities.
“There’s other players around the league, but to be able to go to the Packers, and I’ll be humble and learn from great players like Clay and the rest of the linebackers, I couldn’t be more excited.”
Listen to a scout break down Biegel’s game, and it’s easy to see his potential. Eliot Wolf, the Packers' director of football operations, raved about Biegel’s hand use. Like Highsmith, he mentioned Biegel’s tenacious motor.
There’s one area of Biegel’s game that is most clearly lacking. Something else he could learn from Matthews. Wolf didn’t mind pointing it out.
“He needs to work a little bit on his celebrations,” Wolf said. “He plays so hard, he gets super excited, and sometimes it doesn’t look like he has a plan after the play’s over.”
Naturally, Biegel was asked by everyone in the past couple months whether he wanted to play for the Packers. He often shrugged off the question. For any draft prospect, there are 32 potential employers to consider.
It’s important to keep options open.
But make no mistake about how Biegel felt as Saturday morning became afternoon. The disappointment from Friday night disappeared as soon as his phone rang. Next to him, his father started to cry.
And Rocky Biegel is not a man known to cry.
“In my opinion,” Rocky said, “he’s playing with the best team in the NFL. So it’s a dream come true for us. We were just so happy. I don’t cry very often, but I was pretty choked up. It’s pretty special for us just being Wisconsin people, being Packer fans.
“To be able to watch your kid play for the Packers, it’s probably the ultimate.”
This is his life now.
The kid grew up playing football in Wisconsin. Made a name for himself at the state’s university. On July 1, he’ll marry a Wisconsin girl named Sarah. They’ll start a new life at their old home.
Biegel has a good idea what that’ll be like. Pretty soon, kids will throw him their green-and-gold jerseys with “Biegel” written on the back. He’ll be standing there, on the other side of the Ray Nitschke Field fence, ready to sign and toss those jerseys back.