Lambeau, Herber ... Vanderlin?

Green Bay might be the football capital of the United States but it's been a long time since the city of 100,000 and its suburbs has been a pipeline to the NFL. For Drew Vanderlin, a new member of the Packers' practice squad, a dream has come true.

Once upon a time, when the Green Bay Packers were the early dynasty of the infant National Football League, players from Green Bay populated the team's roster.

None other than Curly Lambeau was from Green Bay, as was Arnie Herber.

Through the years, the Green Bay-to-the-NFL pipeline has mostly dried up. There have been some exceptions, but since the calendar turned to 2000, there have been just four. Offensive lineman Dan Buenning played in 35 games with Tampa Bay and Chicago from 2005 through 2008. Defensive lineman Jim Flanigan played 146 games, mostly with Chicago but including the 2001 season for the Packers, from 1994 through 2003. Running back Aaron Stecker played in 129 games from 2000 through 2009, all but nine with New Orleans. Kevin Stemke punted in a total of eight games in 2002 with Oakland and 2004 with St. Louis. Drew Novak, a De Pere native and undrafted rookie this year from Western Michigan, is on Jacksonville's injured reserve.

Drew Vanderlin hasn't joined that select company, but at least he's got a chance.

Vanderlin, a standout at Green Bay Southwest High School and Division II Michigan Tech, was signed to the Packers' practice squad on Wednesday.

Vanderlin had a chance back in May. An undrafted rookie, the 6-foot-3, 288-pound defensive end participated in the Packers' rookie camp on a tryout basis. For three days, he was living the dream. Then, came the harsh reality. Not all dreams come true. Not all scripts have a Hollywood-style ending.

"They got us in a group together (after the final practice) and said our goodbyes and got a call the next day from Mr. Dorsey, who said, ‘We were very impressed with what you did and how you played and, unfortunately, we can only keep a couple of the tryout guys.'"

John Dorsey, the Packers' director of college scouting, offered a ray of hope. Dorsey said he'd keep Vanderlin on his ready list. It was that carrot — a small carrot at the end of a long stick — that kept Vanderlin pushing and pushing and pushing, even though his phone was "very quiet" for the next five-and-a-half months.

"It is (hard to keep grinding) at times, but then you just have to remind yourself that this is an opportunity to play in the NFL, so then that just keeps you motivated right there," Vanderlin said. "You don't really think about the phone not ringing. You just always think about, ‘OK. what if it does?' Yesterday it did, and that made all of that hard work and that wait worth it."

Not ready to give up on the game he loves, Vanderlin took a job as the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's defensive line coach. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Vanderlin took the dual role of overseeing the athletic department's strength and conditioning program.

When the Packers called, there was no time to hand in his two-week notice. Instead, he packed his bags and made the life-changing two-hour trip west.

"It's a long road ahead, but to actually be in this locker room and step foot on that field and have Lambeau right over your shoulder, it's a dream come true, especially growing up and living here. So, I'm excited," he said.

It's a great story, to be sure, but the NFL is a cold, hard business. A few years ago, the Packers brought in one of the great players in NCAA Division III history, UW-Whitewater star and Wisconsin native Justin Beaver. Like Vanderlin, Beaver participated in the Packers' 2008 rookie camp on a tryout basis. As many cameras and microphones were pointed toward the dynamic running back as the Packers' top pick, Jordy Nelson, or rookie quarterbacks Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. The camp ended without Beaver being offered a contract.

If Vanderlin doesn't impress, he'll be told to clear out his locker. Being on the practice squad is a week-to-week deal. Nothing is guaranteed.

"Eliot (Wolf) reminded me on the phone yesterday," Vanderlin said. "It's a business, and that's how you have to attack it, and anything can happen. I can only worry about what I can control, and that's just going out there every day and practicing as hard as I can and giving up a good look with the look team and just trying to, like I did in the minicamp, open some eyes. Hopefully, I can keep that momentum going and make a long run."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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