Vanden Heuvel, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound true freshman left tackle, was not expecting to end up in the depth in his first fall training camp. But the Badgers' slim numbers on the offensive line mandated just that. Vanden Heuvel opened practice as Joe Thomas's backup at left tackle and held that spot throughout camp.
"I was just kind of thrown in there the first couple of days and I was kind of surprised," Vanden Heuvel said during the recently completed fall camp. "But now I'm kind of getting used to it and I'm coming up to that level."
The Badgers have other options in reserve at offensive tackle. Sophomore Danny Kaye opened camp as the third tackle behind Thomas and starting right tackle Kraig Urbik and will resume that role, now that he is back practicing after injuring his knee early in camp. And sophomore Mike Van Someren has also worked in with the depth and could substitute in a pinch.
But especially with Kaye out for much of camp, UW had to get Vanden Heuvel ready, just in case.
"It's a big leap from high school," Vanden Heuvel said. "Everyone down here is just an amazing athlete."
Vanden Heuvel was a standout at Hudson (Wis.) High School and the Badgers already hold him in high regard. The coaches just hope they can bring him a long at a steady pace, rather than rushing him into the fray.
"You just don't want him to hit a wall," Alvarez said. "And he hasn't. He's a very bright young man. As long as he keeps learning and improving it will definitely be a positive."
"It's going to take some work but I think I'll be ready when the time comes," Vanden Heuvel said.
"I've had to get a lot faster because of those guys," Vanden Heuvel said. "They've made me a lot better."
Vanden Heuvel said that he has had to adjust to the speed and tempo of the college game, which he has found to be much quicker than it was in high school. To help with the transition, he is working on his footwork, speed and hand placement.
"In high school I used to be able to run people over but here you've got to really concentrate on what you are doing," he said.
"You have to go all out every play, or else you miss the block. Because everybody's so good down here. You have to really concentrate on everything you're doing, make sure everything is perfect and in place."
Vanden Heuvel weighed in at 340-345 pounds as a high school senior, but he checked in at 335 on the first day of UW's practices and was down to 330 about midway through camp. The goal, he said, was to hold his weight in the 325-330 range.
"I think I've gotten a bit quicker since high school, especially in the last couple weeks, cause quickness is stressed a lot more here," Vanden Heuvel said.
"I tell you, he's come a long way," Alvarez said. "He is very talented. There aren't many guys wandering around that are 6-8 and 335 who can bend and are as athletic as he is."
Throughout camp, Vanden Heuvel worked alongside another true freshman, left guard Andy Kemp. The tandem appeared to be already building the chemistry that is a prerequisite for a good offensive line.
"We've become fast friends over the past couple weeks," Vanden Heuvel said. "We're starting to kind of learn how we both kind of think, so we can kind of tell what we're going to do kind of before we do it on the line, so we can kind of work with each other better as a team….
"It helps if you know what the other guy's going to do and you know you can count on him. You don't have to think about if they might screw up and they might not do the job and you'll have to go (cover up) for them. You know that they know what they're doing and you know what you're doing and you can just trust each other, so that you can both go to your fullest."