In the small west Michigan town of Whitehall, 6-5, 260 pound DE/TE Ryan VanBergen is a man amongst boys. Dominating the competition in his neck is the norm for the personable youngster. When this big fish swam into the bigger pond that is the Michigan summer camp, few expected him to manhandle the competition in the same fashion. After his week-long performance as a one-man wrecking crew, GoBlueWolverine's Camp MVP proved that he was more than up to the task.
"It was the same good experience, but a different experience," said VanBergen. "Last year I was kind of on the outside trying to work my way in…trying to get a name for myself a little bit. This year I was kind of up near the top as far as the talent level that was there. It's nice to be held in regard as one of the best and be able to go against the best so I could show what I could do. I would like to say I was expecting myself to do that well at the camp, but I think I exceeded a few expectations. I figured there would at least be a couple of linemen down there that would put up a real good fight and probably slow me down a little bit. I fell a little short in the Smokehouse this year. I want to say I won the race, but we were so close that I could barely see (the winner) out of my peripheral. They told the other kid that he won by two-hundredths of a second. I went up to coach Carr and told him I was sorry I couldn't repeat, but he was like, 'that's alright, I'm pretty sure you repeated.' If it's from Coach Carr I think its official (laughing). I'd set high goals for myself at camp and I think I did pretty good at getting there."
The Michigan coaching staff came away extremely impressed with the performance according to VanBergen. He feels he confirmed for them that they've secured the commitment of a very talented player.
"Coach Stripling said it was nice that I showed improvement even after I had already cemented myself in" VanBergen recalled. "I had shown the work ethic to go beyond what expectations were for me and push myself even harder even though I had already earned what I was trying to get. He was impressed by that. Coach Moeller said it was a good thing I wasn't coming back because he didn't know how many more good linemen he could get to show up (laughing). I just think it was a reassurance for them. Nationwide, I don't have that big of a name. I know Coach Stripling knew I had talent, but it had been a year since he'd seen it. So I think it was a reassurance thing for them just to say,' yeah, we got this player and we're happy about it,' and not, 'he just had a good couple of days at camp last year.' They know I can come through consistently."
The thing that makes VanBergen so intriguing is the fact that he could wind up at a number of positions in college. He also plays tight end, and acquitted himself very well as a pass catcher during camp when not playing defensive line. He's currently slotted as a future defensive end for the Wolverines, but he knows that may not always be the case.
"It's not set in stone," he said regarding what position he'll be playing. "I know that' the plan right now. They said for my frame, I look light at 260. It looks like they could put a lot more weight on me. I don't know if that means they want me to be a heavy defensive end or a quick, normal-sized d-tackle. There are some people that said O-line, but not Michigan. That's just something I've been hearing. I know right now I'm expecting to play defensive end, but if it doesn't happen it's not going to be the end of the world."
At this juncture, where VanBergen plays when he gets to Ann Arbor isn't nearly as important to him as whom he'll be playing with. He has already spent a great deal of time forming relationships with his future classmates.
"I know pretty much all of the Michigan commits, except the two new ones," he said. "Vince was obviously the first commitment. He was there when I committed so we exchanged numbers. We kind of just started our own little network. When we show up in the summer there isn't going to be an icebreaker. There's not going to be a need for one because we talk to each other. I just got off the phone with Vince. I talk to Martell every once in a while. I talk to Ryan every other week or so. We all know each other pretty well. We won't have to go through the acquaintance thing when we get there. We'll just get down to business. I think it's nice to know who you'll be playing with. It's nice to know the coaches and the facilities, but I think it's more important to know the players."
VanBergen also managed to get to know a few of the Wolverine recruits, including junior lineman J.B. Shugarts. Both players were standouts in their position groups and VanBergen issued a friendly challenge to his young counterpart during the one-on-ones so they could determine who was best.
"Me, Mallett, and J.B. had been hanging out for a little while," VanBergen explained. "Mallett was talking his friend's game up a little bit and mentioned how he was supposed to be the best junior. He's really talented for a junior. I could tell that by just watching him. We had our own little rivalry going during the one-on-ones. We never did get a chance to face each other. It's kind of hard because you never know who's stepping up (for a particular repetition). I think I faced everybody else except for him. "
"I know me and him liked each other," VanBergen continued. "He told me he had a good time. I think it was a real good learning experience for him. I think he came away with a really positive impression of Michigan."
Now that camp is behind him, the future Wolverine has shifted his focus entirely back to his high school team. He knows that there are some youngsters back home counting on him.
"Right now I'm pretty much just working for a great senior year in football,"
VanBergen said. "I committed early so I could dedicate myself 100% to my
teammates right now. I owe that to them so I'm doing as much as I can in the
weight room and on the field to be as good as I can."