From Bay Port to the Packers, Van Lanen gets drafted
By Greg Bates
He said he enjoyed watching Brett Favre at the tail end of his career and then immediately latched onto Aaron Rodgers when the Packers had a changing of the guard at quarterback.
“More in my football days once I got into high school and college, I loved watching (David) Bakhtiari,” said Van Lanen. “I watch him every snap. He’s a role model in the O-line world for me because of the way he plays. He’s an awesome lineman and a great player.”
Now, Van Lanen is going to be able to play alongside and pick the brain of his idol Bakhtiari.
Van Lanen received the call of a lifetime Saturday, May 1, when his hometown Packers selected him in the sixth round, No. 214 overall, in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The former Bay Port and Wisconsin offensive lineman standout is staying home.
“This is one-in-a-million chance and opportunity,” Van Lanen told Wisconsin media members on a call Saturday after getting drafted. “I’m excited to work my butt off and help this team win a Super Bowl. “To have it a few miles where you grew up, this is the team I’ve watched my entire life, and to be part of such a special program, I’m beyond excited, that’s for sure.”
Van Lanen, who grew up 10 minutes north of Lambeau Field, said he had some contact with Packers’ brass early in the pre-draft process but not as much later on.
He also knew the Packers had already taken two offense linemen – Ohio State center/guard Josh Myers in the second round and Mississippi tackle/guard Royce Newman in the fourth round – so selecting another offensive lineman late in the draft didn’t seem likely.
Van Lanen said he was surprised to receive a call from general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur.
“The calls I was getting, this one came up as ‘scam likely,’ on my phone,” he said. “I saw it was a Green Bay number, and I answered it. I wasn’t expecting it to be Gutekunst and LaFleur, and I couldn’t believe it. They said, ‘How’d you love to be a Packer?’ I was stoked. I had my family here, my close relatives and people who have been here since Day 1. To be going to Green Bay is unbelievable for me.”
Gutekunst shared with the media he thought it was a cool moment to be able to call Van Lanen and give him the news of a lifetime.
“There are not many times we’re going to select a player in the draft from Bay Port, but I couldn’t have been happier to do so,” Gutekunst said. “It’s unique it fell the way it did. Everybody was excited when we started getting close to that pick, and he was still alive on our board. Then a bunch of the guys made jokes about which bar in town he was at watching the draft. Wisconsin does a good job with their football program overall but specifically with their O-linemen. He’s been trained well, not only at Wisconsin but at Bay Port. He’s ready for the challenge the National Football League and the Green Bay Packers will bring.”
LaFleur shared in the excitement of keeping a local kid playing in Green Bay.
“Any time you get a homegrown guy – I didn’t ask him this – but I’m assuming he grew up a Packers fan … I sure as heck hope so,” LaFleur said. “To be able to play for a team he grew up idolizing, that’s a special moment. I know the last kid who came from Bay Port (Alec Ingold) is doing good in this league.”
Ingold, who was picked up by the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft, and Van Lanen played together at Bay Port for two years (2013-14).
The duo also was at Wisconsin together from 2016-18.
At Wisconsin, Van Lanen played in 45 games during his four years and started 19 games at left tackle.
During the pre-draft process, Van Lanen told The Press Times he was working on being a versatile player who could play tackle or guard in the NFL.
He was also getting acquainted with center so he could play all five positions on the line.
“I have raw power coming off the ball in the run game,” Van Lanen said. “I do well in gap-power schemes, zone schemes, getting to the hip, getting to the second level and creating holes – that’s where I excel.”
Gutekunst said he didn’t know if the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Van Lanen would primarily be a tackle or guard.
“That’s one of the things we’ve tried to do here over the past few years is the flexibility part, being able to play multiple positions, and he can do that,” Gutekunst said. “He doesn’t have your traditional height and length of some tackles, but he’s got the athleticism to play out there. He’s ideally suited inside as well.”
Gutekunst said Van Lanen has the quickness to handle inside rushers.
“He has tons of versatility,” he said. “He’s a smart kid. As I said, he’s been through Bay Port and Wisconsin, two excellent programs, so football has been a major part of his life for a long time. He fits our room. He’s going to fit in, and he’ll give you guys lots of stories to write, too, that’s for sure.”
Van Lanen, who recently turned 23, has been able to play all three stages of his football career in Wisconsin.
“A small number of people get to live this dream and have this opportunity, and I’m overwhelmed,” Van Lanen said. “I’m excited to make the most of it.”