Rated as the nation's No. 13 tight end and a four star prospect by Scout.com, there is a lot to like about van der Wal. Recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy describes him as a player who "has terrific size that immediately makes one think of a future offensive tackle, but van der Wal has a frame that looks better suited to stick at tight end. He has pillow soft hands and presents a huge target with his height. A growth spurt could see him put his hand down full time at tackle, where he'd be comfortable because he's a good blocker. A solid route runner who is a weapon in the middle of the field or in the corners."
Which is why a number of schools have offered him including a favorites list of Baylor, Minnesota, Arizona State, Duke, New Mexico State, and San Diego State. However it's the Blue Devils who appear to have the inside track to land what could be the program's top recruit in the class of 2011. In fact it could have already happened if not for some scheduling conflicts.
"I missed a 10 school summer trip with my parents because of a conflict with my high school team and the biggest seven on seven tournament. So I'm going to have to wait on my official visits to see the schools and to commit. But when I commit to Duke, it will be final and solid as a rock."
In case you missed it, that's a pretty telling statement of van der Wal's mindset. But in case there is any confusion, the 6-foot-7, 240 pounder clarified his feelings.
"Duke sits alone at the top of both parents' decision matrices, independently. Without exception. Everyone who has given me feedback or opinion says Duke. That list includes a teammate of mine who recently visited there as well."
So what is it about Duke that has created such a strong feeling?
"It's the education, the coaching staff, and the administration's commitment to excellence. I haven't seen the location yet, but have heard great things. I know Coach Cutcliffe could have gone to Tennessee, yet he chose to stay and that speaks volumes to me about his character."
Were it not for the transition of Coach Lubick from Arizona State, van deer Wal may not be looking to cast his lot in Durham. However, the former Sun Devil's metamorphosis into a Blue Devil appears to have been the key for this one.
"Coach Lubick was my first contact. I think he saw me at ASU before he moved to Duke. Since then we've spoken to the coaching staff a lot. My dad is trying to keep the contact load to a minimum. I can talk with anyone I want when I am home, but Dad doesn't want me to get calls from the school about my phone going off way too much."
In addition to the 7-on-7 tournament, van der Wal has camped at a number of west coast locations including Stanford and USC. He was voted to the all-camp team for both programs and also performed well at California's camp where Golden Bear tight end coach Jeff Genyk told Dillion he was "easily the top tight end in attendance".
For any recruit there are memorable experiences in the process, and for van der Wal one came during the very 7-on-7 event that caused him to miss his 10 school trip.
"The craziest [recruiting] experience was a parent of an opponent that we beat in the tournament putting me on the phone with the receivers coach of Miami and then doing the same thing with the coach of North Carolina. Right after the game. In the park. With everyone watching."
Despite the impromptu phone conversations, van der Wal and his family have approached the recruiting process in a methodical and businesslike fashion which he admits has helped cut down on the potential stress. And he has advice for those players just entering the process.
"[The recruiting process] is stressful. I would tell everyone to take notes mentally of what you hear, see, and the experience. Then put it down in writing before you leave the location. Make and update a decision spreadsheet or matrix."
Heading into his senior year, van der Wal says he has a few goals in mind and the proper mindset as he moves forward with his football career.
"It's my year. I won't be sharing the line with three other four-star rated (or higher) division one prospects. I am not playing behind two other All-American upperclassmen at tight end. I have worked this summer to become bigger, stronger, and faster. I'm a year older and more confident."