Courtney VanBuren signed a three year deal on July 17th. The 80th overall pick in the draft, Van Buren is expected to start the season at left tackle behind Damion McIntosh on the depth charts.
Courtney Van Buren was a three year starter for Arkansas-Pine Bluff who played six games with the first unit as a red-shirt freshman. He came to Pine Bluff as a defensive tackle before moving to the offensive side of the ball as a sophomore.
Not many of us get to go out to Pine Bluff, What can you tell us about him?
"Courtney was a kid with a 3.2 GPA and the guys there (at his high school) didn't think he would go very far. I saw him throw the shot put some 50-something yards and I knew that took some athleticism to do. All the stuff he did pointed to us getting him to come aboard.
"We let him play on the defensive line for a year since that is what he played in high school.
"He started off a little slow at offensive tackle. He just hadn't played it and didn't know a whole lot about it. Being a bright, big kid he picked it up going into his senior year. He felt comfortable, he dominated.
"We played Alabama A&M who had this kid that got drafted (Robert Mathis who was drafted by Carolina and the Chargers brought in for a visit). Real quick defensive end and we couldn't stop him on the left side (He had three sacks) and Courtney said ‘Let me go to the left side', we put Courtney over there and Courtney did a good job against him."
Van Buren started for three seasons over at Arkansas-Pine Bluff where he played mostly at the right tackle spot. Possessing the versatility to play both tackle spots he gave up just two sacks his senior year playing with four freshmen along the offensive line.
"Courtney has been here five years and has never been a problem. His senior year he got a little heavy at times, he weighed out 375-380 and he started dropping down. When the scouts came in he eventually got down to 360 and ran like a 5.1 40 for them. Courtney had bench presses one time at least 500 pounds and I think he did 225 for the scouts about 30 times."
So is his biggest problem controlling his weight and keeping it down?
"I think he will be able to control the weight. He is a very intelligent kid. He knows what he has got to do. He knows there are a lot of things he has to learn and he can't let the weight be a problem. I don't think that is going to be a major problem with him because he understands the seriousness of it."
What about wearing down late in the season?
"I didn't see a lot of wearing down with him. You are not going to find too many defensive ends that are going to put that kind of pressure on him with his size and strength and everything. We didn't see a whole lot of that; probably in the Pros it will be a little different. Some of the guys playing 280, 290 at defensive end, but I think, like a lot of the scouts were telling me, he has the potential to be there (In the NFL) for a long time. Barring injuries he has the potential to be there 10-12 years. His attitude, his intelligence, his work ethic give him a great opportunity to stay there for many years."
How many teams scouted him?
"San Diego came in, Rich Moran, his agent, did a good job in promoting Courtney. Once Courtney's name got out there and his times got out there, teams started really coming in, especially after they started working him out, seeing his footwork and everything."
Van Buren said he spent his Sundays in college glued to the television set, watching his heroes, Orlando Pace, Jon Runyan, Kyle Turley, "all the mean guys," and trying to learn from them. "I looked at what worked and what didn't work and tried to implement their game into my game from week to week," he said.
"Another big thing and I want to mention this," said Hardman. "He took that NFL aptitude test (known as the Wonderlic) and the scouts were just amazed at how he blew it out of the water. One of the scouts told us he did better than most quarterbacks do on that test. There was a kid whose moves, strength and attitude were so good, that really started to take his stock up."
What kind of offense does Arkansas-Pine Bluff run?
"We run a one back with three or four wideouts similar to what San Diego runs. I know sometimes they put two backs and every once in a while we will go to a pro-set. We basically use a one back with three or four wideouts."
He was fielding punts out here during practice one day, where does he get the athleticism with such a big frame?
"It just amazes me some of the things he can do with his strength and size and his attitude. To me attitude is everything and his attitude is super over the five years. You take a guy that is that big and that strong and that much attention and you don't have a problem in five years -- that is saying something."
Were you surprised Van Buren was drafted in the third?
"In January, early February I was thinking I hope he goes by the fourth, no later than the fifth. After the scouts started coming in working him out and then he went off for a little while with some trainers. He came back and I felt that he would go higher than that, a little bit higher than fourth and I was hoping third. I felt the third would be a very good round for him and that is when he ended up going."
Van Buren said his hobby was doing homework on San Diego and every other team in the NFL. "I know a little bit about everybody on every team," Van Buren said before his rookie orientation in San Diego. "I'm kind of like a football nerd a little bit. There's a definite youth movement going on in San Diego."
You have had a few gems of recent, will this continue into the future with your program?
"We have been very fortunate. We have a couple here that we think will go next year."
Van Buren's knowledge of the game is just one reason the 6-6, 360-pound dominator at the NCAA Division I-AA level is said by some to have all the ingredients of a future star.
Sure, there was some mumbling on draft day about the Chargers jumping out and taking Van Buren too early, but UAPB Coach Lee Hardman contends Van Buren was anything but a secret even though he wasn't invited to the Indianapolis combine before the draft.
Van Buren, a two-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection, is ready to back up the high praise.
"Being a third-round pick from a small black school, you are definitely going to have people questioning [the selection]," Van Buren said. "I'm going to go there and try to show them that small-school guys can play. Through the years that's been shown — Jerry Rice, Walter Payton. I definitely have a lot to prove and I'm sure I will prove there are some excellent ballplayers in the SWAC and other small conferences."
His pre-draft bio on NFL. com described Van Buren as, "a rising star who simply dominated in isolated blocking situations. Has surprising foot speed and balance for his size. One of the strongest blockers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, boasting a 450-pound bench press."
"I just want to come in and work hard. I really don't want to speculate about the future," Van Buren said. "Work hard and make my presence felt as a rookie. Whatever happens, happens, and I'll play my part whatever it may be.
"My first goal is to learn the system and learn all the plays and the intricacies of the position at the NFL level. Get accustomed, acclimated to that and we'll see from there."
Van Buren still thinks Hardman has told us secrets about him. The only secret is how good Courtney can be in the future. The Chargers hope to unleash that secret shortly.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pine Bluff Coach Hardman on Courtney Van Buren
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