Tall man, big shoes, high aspirations
Senior left tackle Jared Veldheer is on track for a career in the NFL
By: Nathan McClallen HillsdaleCollegian.com
Posted: 9/24/09Hillsdale College has had its share of high-profile athletes over the past few years. Most students would recognize names such as Mark Nicolet ('08), Katie Cezat ('09) or Tom Korte ('09) due to their recognition on a national scale. There are others too. Players like Tony Gugino ('09), Stephanie Booms ('09) and numerous all-Americans in the track program have also brought attention to the college. However, senior offensive lineman Jared Veldheer could ultimately have the biggest impact on the world of professional sports.
"They [NFL scouts] came this spring," said head coach Keith Otterbein. "Statistically, there aren't a lot of guys in the country that are 6 feet, 7 inches, 321 pounds and can run a 4.87 [40-yard dash]."
In fact, there may not be any others. The 40-yard dash is a standard test the NFL uses to rate a player's ability to accelerate over a short distance. At the NFL combine this spring, the fastest time for an offensive lineman was 4.89 seconds, according to NFL.com. There are more eye-popping statistics.
Veldheer can bench press 225 lbs. 33 times and has a hang clean mark of 425 pounds in addition to having a 30-inch vertical. These numbers compare favorably to any offensive lineman drafted last year, which explains the NFL interest. However, success is dependent on more than just numbers.
"It really comes down to how much the guy loves the game of football," Otterbein said. "And that's where Jared is going to separate himself."
According to D2football.com, he is the fourth ranked pro prospect. However, Veldheer said he is not dwelling on his professional future, but rather staying focused on the season.
"I figure if you go about it trying to play your best every Saturday, everything else will take care of itself," he said.
That's not to say he is not prepared for the NFL. Veldheer invests in a personal trainer over the summer months to increase his speed and agility, according to Otterbein.
"He has left no stone unturned," he said. "He is doing anything he can to give himself the best chance to be the best football player he can be."
Hillsdale College has reaped the benefits.
In his first three seasons, Veldheer has blocked for a 1,000 yard rusher and is well on his way to a fourth. Senior running back Vinnie Panizzi has 459 yards through four games.
"You can't say enough about Veldheer," said Panizzi. "He starts it all off."
Behind Veldheer's blocking, Panizzi has moved into third place in all time rushing yards at Hillsdale.
Veldheer's position on the offensive line is left tackle, which means he has the most responsibility to protect the quarterback. If he is good at run-blocking, he is better at pass-blocking.
Just how many sacks has he allowed this season?
"Zero," he said, revealing a hint of the satisfaction he has earned through perfection. "None in four years."
According to Otterbein, Veldheer may be underappreciated.
"Unfortunately for him, nobody cares about the left tackle until your quarterback is sitting on his hind end, then you're wondering why they can't pass protect," he said. "Call down to Indianapolis [University] and find out how fun it is to have your quarterback on his back all day long."
The next step, according to Otterbein, is getting into a college all-star game. Once he can prove he can match up with the best defensive ends in college football, all that's left is the draft. Otterbein admitted he doesn't know a whole lot about the process, but projected Veldheer to be a middle-round pick.
As for now, just take special note of #66. He won't be here forever.
"He hasn't missed a snap the last four years," said Otterbein. "Next year, when 'whoever' fills that role, well, those are some big shoes to fill."