Aggression was a common answer Patrick Kasl gave whenever he was asked what he was concentrating on improving this past offseason leading up to his senior year at Forest Lake (MN) High School. The problem with Kasl wasn’t that he wasn’t aggressive when he was playing, but rather that he struggled with consistency in that department.
According to Kasl’s head football coach Jeff Wilson, he didn’t see the necessary violence come out of the three-star prospect until his junior year when Kasl joined the wrestling team, earning all-conference honors in the process. Wilson always saw Kasl’s talent, but the hostility finally started to surface during a wrestling career that allowed him to consistently use his 6-6 frame to win more than his fair share of battles on the field.
“I think he finally realized what he can do with the body that God blessed him with and what kind of talents he has,” said Wilson. “He did really well as a heavy weight. I think that just translated into his play this year.”
Joining Green Bay (WI) Bay Port offensive tackle Cole Van Lanen as linemen in Wisconsin’s 2016 recruiting class, Kasl’s consistent aggressive play was on full display in an October game against Stillwater. Example, the Rangers were facing a first-and-20 when Wilson called four straight run plays behind Kasl to dig the Rangers out of the hole. Kasl responded by helping open up runs of seven, eight, four and eight yards to pick up a first down. In past years, Wilson likely wouldn’t have been so apt to make that call. This past season it was a no brainer.
The Wisconsin coaches saw Kasl’s newfound aggressiveness on display first hand during a June high school summer camp. Outshining a talented group of in-state athletes, Kasl earned a scholarship offers with his dominance, athleticism and coachability.
Kasl kept on improving throughout the season and was credited with more than 50 pancakes his senior year. Despite going winless in his varsity career, Wilson said Kasl never took a play off and made a concentrated effort to show on every play that he was one of the better players on the field.
“(He) had to battle through a lot of things, got close in some big games,” offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said. “(He) came as a recommendation from (former UW quarterback) Brooks Bollinger; he said there’s a kid here to check out. Patrick was fun. We had a chance to see him. Coach Tibs did a great job of getting him to camp, working with him in camp and seeing how explosive he was, testing out and how physical he was on the field.”
The high school career of Van Lanen is on a different spectrum when it comes to team success, as Bay Port went 7-3 last season. With his talent and overall play earning him U.S. Army All-American Bowl honors, Van Lanen had one of the better weeks at the all-star game, according to reports. That shouldn’t be a surprise given his national ranking and the impressive offer list he picked the Badgers over.
Van Lanen has shown to consistently get after people in the trenches with good leverage and playing through the whistle, which will allow him to win a lot of matchups going forward. Van Lanen has demonstrated the ability to pull block with his quickness off the line. He’s also a tremendous two-sport athlete, winning the division 1 state track and field individual titles in the shot put and discus.
At the U.S. Army All American game, Van Lanen worked with the number one offensive line unit at guard and thrived, adding more positives to his repertoire that he can be versatile. It will be interesting to see where Rudolph chooses to start him, as some of the better offensive lineman for Wisconsin have been able to play multiple positions in there career without missing a beat.
“Cole is a heck of a prospect and we’re really glad he’s gone from being a recruit to being in our family,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s got size, he’s explosive and he has everything you want in an offensive lineman. The thing I really enjoyed when you get to know him, he’s got an edge to him and he will work and he comes from a great family and he’s got support, but I think he’s got a chance to be special.”
Both players will likely redshirt as they continue to add good weight and learn the college blocking principles from Rudolph, not to mention Wisconsin could start four redshirt sophomores next season. But with Wisconsin using seven different starting offensive line combinations in 13 games this past season, flipping players from tackle to guard or guard to center. Rudolph thinks that Van Lanen and Kasl also have the ability to provide the same.
After highly-touted Hartland Arrowhead offensive lineman Ben Bredeson committed to Michigan in early June, Van Lanen put any concerns that he might also leave the state to rest when he committed on June 20 over offers from Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska, among others.
Wisconsin showed late interest late in Downers Grove (Ill.) South four-star offensive lineman Erik Swenson after he de-committed from Michigan, but the best Wisconsin could do was a grayshirt offer due to limited scholarship numbers. Swenson ended up committing to Oklahoma on an official visit the weekend before national signing day.
Signing three offensive lineman in last year’s class, it wasn’t a point of emphasis for Wisconsin to bring in a high volume of lineman in 2016. Considering the youth on the offensive line (16 lineman returning), 11 will be redshirt sophomores or younger and only one projected senior starter (center Dan Voltz).
Although the offensive line struggled at times last season, Rudolph should be excited about the group’s future, and the addition of Van Lanen and Kasl will only help build the quality depth that was missing last season.
Signing Day Grade: A