Vanden Heuvel awaits his turn

True freshman left tackle has seen playing time in two games this season

It has been four weeks since Eric Vanden Heuvel last played for the University of Wisconsin football team, and seven weeks since his only extended action, in the second half of a 65-0 triumph over Temple.

Vanden Heuvel hopes to receive his third opportunity Saturday, when No. 15 Wisconsin (7-1 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) faces host Illinois (2-5, 0-4) at 11 a.m.

As the Badgers' second-team left tackle, Vanden Heuvel is not in line for regular repetitions in a game situation. But as a true freshman, his two games of experience did erase the opportunity to redshirt in his first year. It is a double-edged sword that many players have to face: experience now versus another season of playing time four years later.

Vanden Heuvel and classmate Andy Kemp, UW's second-team left guard, made history against Temple, becoming just the second (Kemp) and third (Vanden Heuvel) offensive linemen to play as true freshmen during Barry Alvarez's 16-season tenure as head coach.

Vanden Heuvel played almost all of the second half versus the Owls Sept. 10, and three snaps against Indiana Oct. 1.

"I've kind of been thinking about that a bit," Vanden Heuvel said. "About if maybe I should have redshirted since (I am) only getting a little bit of playing time this year. But I think the experience helps of just knowing the game speed. And so that, you know, if I come in next year I'm not totally dry and totally un-experienced in that."

Vanden Heuvel said that he and Kemp, the Badgers' only true freshmen offensive linemen, have had similar thoughts, coupled with similar amounts of playing time.

"Me and Kemp are kind of thinking maybe we should have got redshirted," Vanden Heuvel said. "But we both think it was a good idea (to play). Because we'll be there if the team needs us.

"Coaches, they've got reasons for that decision so we're not going to argue with that. But sometimes you just kind of wonder if we would have got that extra year that would have been kind of nice. We're cool with it and we're ready to prepare."

Vanden Heuvel is backing up a potential All-American in Joe Thomas.

"I'm getting a lot better. You can just kind of tell every week. My technique's kind of coming," Vanden Heuvel said. "I'm a lot more confident with what the play is, with the calls."

What has improved the most since fall training camp?

"Probably concentration. Because plays can change," Vanden Heuvel said. "You have to keep reminding (yourself) and you have to be mindful of technique and know what's happening around you. And I think I've gotten a lot better at catching things faster. I think my reaction time has definitely gotten a lot better than it was coming out."

Vanden Heuvel said that offensive line coach Jim Hueber's style has helped push him along the learning curve.

"He's all business. If you don't get it, he'll grind it into you," Vanden Heuvel said. "But the thing is if you screw up, you don't screw up again. He makes sure you don't screw up again. You don't want to once you do."

"I think that's a good way of coaching because it works," Vanden Heuvel said. "It really does. There's a few plays that, you know, he kind of got on my [butt] once. I know it now by heart."

Vanden Heuvel said his the off-field adjustment to college athletics has been smooth.

"Classes really haven't been much of a hassle at all," Vanden Heuvel said. "I'm kind of enjoying it actually."

His major is officially undecided, but he is leaning toward pursuing a degree in kinesiology.

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