And when he speaks, saying he’s lived by a no-handouts motto during his three recruiting processes, it makes sense why the Wisconsin coaching staff was willing to go outside their normal recruiting circles to go after him.
“It’s a hard-working program here,” Van Ginkel said Wednesday on the first day of the early signing period. “Everything has to be earned.”
Signing junior college prospects has been a rarity at Wisconsin. The Badgers have signed only six since 2003, one of which never made it to campus, and the immediate impact hasn’t risen above role player at their recruited position.
Van Ginkel is a little different, however, considering he was at a four-year college before deciding to bet on himself.
Although he was a first-team all-state selection as a defensive back, finishing his high school career for Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley with 176 total tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 10 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries, Van Ginkel was limited on scholarship options. He didn’t receive any division-1 opportunities, saying only FCS-school South Dakota and some lower-level colleges offered him an opportunity to play on the defensive line.
“I had to go with it,” Van Ginkel said. “It’s all I had. I thought it was a good fit for me at the time.”
But by the end of his redshirt freshman season, a year in which he finished with 18.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks, Van Ginkel thought he could play at a higher level and felt confident that a power-five opportunity would come.
“I took a shot and just went for it,” Van Ginkel said.
In order to get noticed, Van Ginkel transferred to Iowa Western Community College and logged 50 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Those kind of numbers started drawing attention, including a coaching friend of outside linebacker coach Tim Tibesar recommend the Badgers take a look.
“We checked into his film from his year at South Dakota and were extremely impressed,” Tibesar said. “We thought he was the right fit for us as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense … We wouldn’t have gone and recruited him and brought him in if we didn’t think that he was going to be a player who would contribute to our program right away. He really actually fills a void.”
That void was created when junior T.J. Watt declared for the N.F.L. draft. While the Badgers have senior Garrett Dooley as a projected starter, Tibesar has a mix of younger talented players who are all redshirt sophomores or younger.
As it stands right now Van Ginkel is the only outside linebacker on the roster in the junior class.
While playing time was part of the reason he picked Wisconsin over Iowa and Nebraska in early November, his official visit during Halloween weekend - seeing the Badgers’ overtime victory over the Cornhuskers - got him hooked on the program.
“From the city to the academics to the football, the tradition here is just well above those schools,” Van Ginkel said. “When I came on my visit it was second to none.”
The other sale’s pitch was the Badgers were going to allow him to play outside linebacker. Iowa and Nebraska saw him as a defensive linemen. In his last four seasons of football, Van Ginkel will have play defensive back, defensive end and now outside backer.
“I’ve got to see all aspects of the game, learn every position, so it’s made a huge impact on how I learned about the game,” Van Ginkel said. “Just knowing what everybody does, no matter whether they are playing secondary or front line, I know what everybody is doing and have a good grasp on the game, which really benefits me.”
Spending the year watching departed outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Watt and how they worked, Van Ginkel said the outside linebacker position fits how he projects himself as a player with his ability to pass rush with speed off the edge. He acknowledged dropping back into pass coverage is an area of weakness for him that will be his primary focus in the spring.
“I’m going to have to come in and earn my spot,” Van Ginkel said. “Nothing will be given. Everything will be earned. It’s a good opportunity for me, but nothing is going to be given.”