Heart. It’s an intangible characteristic in an athlete that can’t be taught, but if he has it, it can make a good player a great one. In the 1993 movie “Rudy,” Ruettiger’s coaches at Notre Dame always said: “If you had half the heart of Ruettiger, you’d be All-American.” At Wisconsin, the football coaches have a player with Ruettiger’s heart in an all-American athlete’s body in redshirt freshman linebacker Vince Biegel.
It’s no surprise Biegel is known for his effort, growing up in Wisconsin Rapids with college football coursing through his veins. Biegel’s dad, Rocky, was an all-conference linebacker at BYU along with his Uncle T.D. — the “T” standing for Jim Thorpe — who played fullback for the Cougars and their father Ken played linebacker at UW-Eau Claire.
“[My dad] always taught us to have the highest motor out there, and I think that’s kind of a reflection on him, him teaching me family values, being the first one to everything and have the highest motor out there and that happened to show on Saturday,” Biegel said. “That’s how I approach everything. Not just on the field but off the field as well.”
Biegel’s all-out attitude doesn’t go unnoticed among his coaches and teammates, whose faces light up at the mention of Biegel’s name.
“God blessed him with a lot of hard work, dedication and passion for the game. That shines in everything he does both on the field and off the field,” fellow linebacker and redshirt senior Brendan Kelly said. “You can be talking about your favorite cereal or you can be talking about the next blitz we’re going to run and he’s just as intense, but it’s a good intensity and it’s something that’s going to carry him a long way in the sport.”
With the help of his parents, Vince and his brother Hayden — a freshman linebacker at Wisconsin — have been groomed to be football players, from diets to watching film on Saturdays of the previous night’s game with Lincoln High School, but were never forced to watch Rocky’s old film, with the Cougars joking, “It’d probably be in black and white.”
Now playing on Saturdays in Camp Randall, Biegel’s dad is in the stands watching his boys follow in his footsteps, but he isn’t afraid to use his experience to teach.
“He’s watching every single second out there,” Biegel said. “He’s the type of guy where after the play he’ll be critiquing me on certain little scenarios, but it’s good though having a guy like that help you out who isn’t your coach necessarily to kind of show you what you’re doing good and bad.”
Biegel came to UW’s football program as the No.1 recruit in Wisconsin and an all-American linebacker at Lincoln High where he stacked up 425 tackles, 27 sacks, 10 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns in his career.
After redshirting his freshman year, the outside linebacker is starting to make his mark on the Badgers’ defense.
“I’m really excited about Vince,” defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “He brings a great passion and a great pass rushing ability on the edge. There is such a determination with Vince and such a want, too, and I think that rubs off on everybody. I think they see that and they’re inspired by him and so he gets us to work harder. So the more Vince can be on the field the better we’ll be.”
Biegel got his biggest opportunity against Purdue earlier this season when Kelly left the game with a leg injury. Since then Biegel has seen a larger portion of the defensive snaps, coming away with one of the defense’s seven sacks last weekend against Northwestern.
But before he could make the difference he is making now, Biegel had to hone in on his trademark determination.
“Early on Vince was very much 100 miles an hour but in every direction and so he’s very much focused now,” Aranda said. “He knows what his job description is, knows his fit within the defense and what we’re asking him to do and so it’s much more concentrated and you get a much more productive player.”
Now that he is beginning to realize his potential on the field, Biegel couldn’t be happier that his hard work is paying off.
“It’s been a great blessing,” Biegel said. “Obviously this is what I’ve been working at for awhile, this is what you lift those weights in the offseason for, this is what you run all of those gassers in the summer for and that’s what you do all of that offseason prep for. For it to show up in a game is a great blessing, so I’ll keep working hard, keep the gas pedal down and keep working.”
While his Rudy-like effort is earning Biegel time on the field, it is also earning him the respect of his teammates.
He already has the intangibles, now he just needs to use his athletic ability and football genes to make the most of it.
“I think Vince likes to be known for his effort and his never give up motor. It’s something that pass rushers and defensive players love to be known for and I think Vince is definitely earning that right now,” Kelly said. “You can’t coach effort and that is definitely something Vince has got down right now.”