MADISON, Wis. — Vince Biegel says he will approach this week’s game like it is any other on Wisconsin’s football schedule. And as preparation goes, that part is probably true. In reality, however, Biegel recognizes the circumstances surrounding the game are unlike any he has ever played.
“I’ve kind of been looking forward to this game all year,” said Biegel, a redshirt freshman outside linebacker. “It’s been in the back of my mind.”
And why not? The ties that bind Biegel and BYU are especially unique. Biegel’s father, Rocky, played linebacker there from 1988-92 and was a second-team all-Western Athletic Conference linebacker in 1990. Rocky’s brother, T.D. Biegel (Vince’s uncle), played fullback at BYU from 1989-93.
When Vince, a highly regarded defensive prospect from Wisconsin Rapids, was making his college choice, he picked Wisconsin over — you guessed it — BYU.
Those factors will no doubt create an unusually emotional November nonconference game for Biegel and his family when No. 21 Wisconsin (6-2) plays host to BYU (6-2) at 2:30 p.m. CT at Camp Randall Stadium. Rocky Biegel said the family bought 10 extra tickets because several of his former BYU teammates are making the trip in to Madison.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Rocky said. “A lot of BYU guys are excited about this game.”
So is Vince Biegel, who is eager to showcase himself against a coaching staff and group of players with which he has a special familiarity. He was recruited by BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and spent time around the team while attending camps in high school.
Biegel said he ultimately chose Wisconsin because he wanted to remain closer to home, although it did not come without plenty of deliberation. One of Rocky’s biggest concerns was the need for his son to play in a 3-4 defensive scheme to utilize his talents as an outside linebacker and pass rusher. At the time, BYU ran a 3-4, while Wisconsin operated out of a 4-3 under former coach Bret Bielema.
“Of course Bret was like, ‘Well it doesn’t matter if you’re running a 3-4 or a 4-3. It doesn’t matter.’ But it does,” Rocky said. “You want to pick a scheme that you’re going to fit into and you know you can thrive in.”
Biegel, at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, did not fit the prototype for a player in a 4-3 because he was deemed too big as an outside linebacker and too small to play inside. In a 3-4, however, he is the perfect fit because of his athleticism and ability to rush the passer.
So when Bielema left for the head coaching position at Arkansas, and new head coach Gary Andersen brought in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — who is a 3-4 defense guru — Biegel quickly took to the new scheme.
This season, Biegel has recorded 15 tackles with two sacks.
“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan for everybody,” Vince said. “So I think the Lord put me in the right spot. I’m very blessed to have coach Aranda, coach Andersen here to have a 3-4. I think the 3-4 fits me better as a player. I’m fortunate to have here at Wisconsin a 3-4. It is going to really suit me well against BYU come this Saturday.”
Biegel’s success this season has not come purely from his athleticism. Aranda said it is the product of consistently working on his craft, searching for ways to improve. Biegel studies film of NFL games, works with senior linebacker Brendan Kelly on different moves and compares notes with his teammates.
When Biegel arrived on campus last season, he was so eager to make a big play that he often found himself out of position entirely. But his maturation as a football player has led to more patience and a better understanding of how to take advantage of his strengths and slow the game down.
“It was kind of like when you get a hound dog,” Aranda said. “You’re teaching him how to fetch and he’s chasing balls, chasing cars, chasing your kids, chasing everything. You want him to just chase whatever you’re fetching him.
“We’re at the point now where he’s chasing the right things. There’s cars driving by, there’s kids running around, but he’s locked on to what he’s supposed to do. That’s a huge key because he’s got such an unbelievable motor, he’s just got to get that to work.”
It was that never-ending motor that drew college programs toward Biegel, including BYU, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Stanford and Tennessee, among others. During his senior season, he was named the Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year and posted 172 tackles, 21 sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. But even then, he had to work to achieve his goals.
“When he was a freshman in high school, he’d trip and fall a lot,” Rocky said. “He was trying too hard. And it just takes him a little bit to just get himself going. When you feel comfortable with the scheme, feel comfortable with what he needs to do, his mind doesn’t have to think about things and then he can just relax and play. It takes guys a little bit to get that. And he’s getting better day by day.”
Rocky’s opinion of Vince’s play, of course, is especially meaningful because he has lived the life of a high school and college standout athlete. Rocky earned 10 letters at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, was a state champion wrestler as a junior and senior and set a state record for career pins (97) and wins. He pinned every opponent as a senior and also was the state player of the year in football.
These facts would lead many to believe that Vince grew up feeling pressure to emulate his father’s path. But Vince, whose younger brother, Hayden, also plays football at Wisconsin, said that was never the case.
“My dad, he told me, ‘Just be yourself,'” Vince said. “Be your own person. Obviously there’s a lot of people from Rapids who always compared me to my father. But at the end of the day, he always wanted me to be my own person, whether that be with football, hockey, track, whatever.
“I think he handled that very well, and I think he’s a good guy I can come to for advice as well. I think me and Hayden are both in the same spot. At the end of the day, it’s all worked out.”
It will work out even better if Vince’s team can snag a victory against his dad’s former school on Saturday in front of dozens of family and friends.
“I hope they’ll all be wearing red and white this week,” Vince said. “That’s all I can say.”