Back in the day, Dave Viaene followed a twisted, unpaved road to an unlikely football career.
He had no way of knowing his son might someday pick up the scent.
Viaene grew up in Kaukauna, and played at UW-Platteville and Minnesota-Duluth with a brief layover at UNLV in between.
If that route doesn’t appear unusual — an NCAA Division III school to a Division I outfit to a Division II program — then here you go:
Viaene was an outstanding defensive lineman for two seasons at Duluth, good enough to be chosen by Houston in the eighth round of the NFL draft in 1988 and to be inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2010.
But in three NFL seasons with New England (1988 and ‘90) and Green Bay (1992) he played center, guard, offensive tackle and long snapper over the course of 21 games, including eight starts.
At one point Viaene stood on the sidelines at Camp Randall Stadium while playing for the Packers in an exhibition game against the New York Jets in 1992.
There’s symmetry in that last item. Viaene will be back at Camp Randall on Saturday to watch his only son, Ben, play for Tennessee Tech in its matchup with the Badgers.
The Golden Eagles are a Football Championship Subdivision team, which makes them a decided underdog vs. UW, a Football Bowl Subdivision school ranked 21st in the nation.
But Dave Viaene, 48, warned any questions to his son that imply a sense of inferiority from Tech should be measured carefully.
“He’s the last guy that should be asked about that,” the father said. “He’s a believer.”
See if any of this sounds familiar:
Ben was a long snapper and tight end at Hortonville High School but received zero recruiting interest. According to his father, Ben tried out at UW-Platteville, but he was told he wasn’t good enough.
Instead of being discouraged, Ben became determined. He put together a video of his long-snapping abilities and put it on YouTube. That led to a roster spot at Minnesota State-Crookston, an NCAA Division II program, where Ben played for two years.
“I thought I was a good enough snapper to go somewhere, you know?” he said, insisting he wasn’t at all discouraged by the rejection he got at Platteville. “A lot of that had to do with my dad, about the effort and the work ethic that he taught me.”
Multiple coaching changes at Crookston and the search for a bigger challenge ultimately led Ben Viaene to Cookeville, Tenn., where his persistence led first to a roster spot, then a starting role with Tech.
He made his debut with the Golden Eagles on Thursday when they beat Cumberland (Tenn.) 63-7.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Ben Viaene said he Googled the school, liked what he found out and showed up in Cookeville unannounced last summer. As soon as he got there he began calling the office of Tech coach Watson Brown at least twice a week to make sure he didn’t miss open tryouts.
“I told him, ‘Not a soul knows you,’ ” Dave Viaene said. “He said, ‘If they see me, I’ll make it.’
“I’m so proud of him. He’s refreshing. He’s not afraid to fail.”
Ben Viaene has never been to Camp Randall, so he’s making sure family and friends share in the experience. He managed to get his hands on 30 tickets for his entourage.
As for the idea that Tennessee Tech is overmatched, remember five FCS schools went on the road last week and knocked off FBS teams.
Ben Viaene was quick to point out that one of the five, Eastern Illinois, which beat San Diego State 40-17, is in the Ohio Valley Conference along with Golden Eagles. The teams meet Nov. 2.
“If we believe and put our minds to it, anything can happen,” Viaene said of facing the Badgers.
“Right now, in the days leading up to the game, I’d be letting my team down, my coaches down if I thought that’s not going to be a (competitive) game.
“Right up to the end of the game you’ve got to believe that you’re going to win. Talking to my teammates, I feel that’s what they believe, too.”
Two separate, but similar journeys will bring father and son to the same place on a football field Saturday.
“I’m kind of following in the same footsteps,” Ben said.
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