Drew Vanderlin signs with Packers, ready to make an impact
In 2003, the Green Bay Packers signed a little known defensive lineman from Central Michigan University as an undrafted free agent. He seemed undersized for the NFL, at 6-feet-, 2-inches and a shade over 300 pounds.
The Packers liked him enough to keep him under contract, but not enough to break with the team, instead sending him to NFL Europe for a season, sort of a redshirt year on the professional level.
In 2004, Cullen Jenkins became a full-fledged member of the Packers.
It's story shared by few others, the tale of the undrafted free agent finding NFL superstardom – Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Bart Scott, London Fletcher and former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowler Pat Williams are a few notable examples.
It's a story Drew Vanderlin would like to write himself into.
The 24-year-old out of NCAA Division II Michigan Tech University was signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent following the draft as a 6-foot, 4-inch, 275-pound defensive end in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.
And if anyone knows patience, and the value of sweat, it's Vanderlin. The Green Bay native spent six years at Michigan Tech, redshirting his freshman season in 2006 and missing another in 2009 due to a medical redshirt following a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
So when Packers director of college scouting John Dorsey gave Vanderlin a call at his Green Bay home Saturday night, he only allowed himself a day to soak it in, to celebrate.
Then, it was back to work.
"Once Monday rolled around, it was back to the grind and stepping it up to three, four, five hours a day and getting back to getting in game shape and being ready for that mini-camp so I can perform at the highest level," Vanderlin said. "The media around here (in Green Bay) say it's a feel good story, but I don't want to just be that guy."
The NFL was always a dream for the Green Bay Southwest High School alumnus, even starting out at tiny Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., which plays in the competitive Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
That dream began to be sprinkled with some reality as an upperclassman, when NFL scouts began sniffing around. For his career, he finished with 20 sacks and 36 tackles for loss. It culminated with a March 12 GLIAC Pro Day at Grand Valley State University, which helped lead to an individual workout with the Packers a month later.
The Packers than reached out to Vanderlin's agent, Travis Bell of the Seven Bridges Group in California, and said if Vanderlin was not drafted, he'd be invited to camp.
The draft came and went, and the hour between then and Dorsey's call was torture for the Vanderlin family.
"From the time the draft ended until the call, it was pretty stressful," he said. "When it finally did, my mom was clapping and my dad, they both started tearing up just because they know the hard work I've put into it and they know the team and effort that has gone into making this a possibility and they were extremely, as was I."
Today, Vanderlin is at the Packers facility not far from home, for rookie orientation, which will be followed by organized team activities (OTA) on May 21. Mini-camp is June 12-14. Should he make it to training camp, which begins July 25.
"My life and college career I've worked for this moment, to get an opportunity to play in the NFL," Vanderlin said. "And then when you find that you're going to have a chance to play for your hometown team in the Green Bay Packers, it's just a dream come true."
"But at the same time, I know it's just another step and nothing is guaranteed. Now I have to go out and prove myself in the mini-camp and hopefully from there get invited back to training camp and from there work on getting on the roster, getting on the team and making a valuable contribution."
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