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The Next Big Leg: Neenah's Jack Van Dyke ready to compete for Badgers' kicking jobs
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The Next Big Leg: Neenah's Jack Van Dyke ready to compete for Badgers' kicking jobs

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Van Dyke photo1

Jack Van Dyke kicks a field goal as a senior for Neenah. Van Dyke was ranked the No. 4 kicker in the 2020 class by Kohl's. 

Jack Van Dyke wasn’t quite sure what had happened.

His coach at Neenah High School, Steve Jung, had given him a bag of footballs to use when practicing his kicking and punting during the winter months after his junior season. Van Dyke would spend hours after school shoveling off patches of Titan Stadium in Oshkosh to practice field goals, punts and kickoffs.

After a training session, Van Dyke went to his bedroom to practice his punt drops, trying to dial in the technique that leads up to the kick. He noticed at that point each ball he pulled from the bag was flat — a result of the abuse that Van Dyke’s powerful leg had put them through in a short time.

Van Dyke felt guilty and decided to text message Luke Radke, the lead instructor for Kohl’s Kicking Camps and someone who had helped him grow exponentially as a specialist.

“I said, ‘Does this happen sometimes?’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got a big leg, buddy, you’re going to have to get used to that,” Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke hopes to use that explosive power in his leg on the field quickly as a walk-on in the 2020 recruiting class for the University of Wisconsin. Van Dyke was announced as a walk-on by the program earlier this month after he tweeted his commitment in the summer.

Kohl’s ranked Van Dyke as a five-star kicking recruit, the No. 4 kicker in the country and the No. 20 punter in the country, and the WFCA named him an all-state kicker this season. In two years as Neenah’s starting kicker, he went 16 of 21 on field goals, including 8-for-8 as a senior, and he averaged over 35 yards per punt.

Jung saw immediately that Van Dyke was going to be a special-teams weapon for the Rockets. Van Dyke was the kickoff specialist for Neenah for four seasons before taking over placekicking duties.

“We just watched how effortlessly he would kick the ball and how far it would sail. We were just so amazed. He was always so relaxed. He’d just come up, kick the ball, and it was always so fluid. The ball just exploded off his foot,” Jung said.

“I compare it to Usian Bolt the 100-meter dash — he’s so fast, but what he’s doing is so effortless.”

JVD photo 2

Jack Van Dyke says he'll compete for whichever kicking job — placekicker, kickoff specialist, or punter — the Badgers coaches ask him to try. 

Van Dyke grew up playing soccer and knew he had a good amount of kicking power, but he didn’t start to dedicate himself to learning the finer points of kicking until midway through his high school career. Once he did, however, the growth was quick.

He went to a Kohl’s training camp the summer before his junior season and impressed Radke with his kickoffs, and Radke encouraged him to continue to sharpen his skills. Van Dyke spent time each day after practice going over every step, every motion of his kicks.

“For about a half-hour to an hour, I would just focus on extra points. A simple kick like that, really focus on my form and technique because that would be what you execute for longer field goals,” Van Dyke said.

That extra time after practices was when Van Dyke — who also played defensive back and receiver for Neenah — started to smooth out his approach and make it more consistent. Van Dyke’s 6-foot-5 frame and long limbs give him a unique body-type as a kicker, and it's part of why he possesses so much kicking power. But coordinating his body for kicking took repetition.

“It was really hard to get my form down,” he said. “Kids like me, lean, tall, 6-4, 6-5, they kind of struggle with athletic ability and not knowing how to use their body. I was definitely blessed athletically-wise to have the skill and having the control over my body. There’s a lot of other tall kids in high school that don’t.”

Radke has seen thousands of kickers through working at Kohl’s camps, and said finding a tall, coordinated specialist like Van Dyke is rare, comparing him to Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, who stands 6-5.

“He has a natural advantage that his swing through the ball, he doesn’t have to swing as hard and the ball goes further,” Radke said. “When you see that level of coordination and athleticism at the length that he’s at, he’s got an advantage over the rest of the guys he’s kicking against.”

Van Dyke either won or placed in the top 10 at multiple Kohl’s recruiting showcase camps between his junior and senior seasons, and that started to drive college interest. The biggest spike in his recruiting was when he won the Kohl’s college camp in Minnesota in June. That led to scholarship offers from FCS programs and a walk-on offer from Minnesota. Another kicking competition win at a camp in Madison later that summer led to the walk-on offer UW.

He received walk-on offers from UW and Iowa on back-to-back days, but said there wasn’t much doubt about where he’d land.

“Not only am I going to have the time of my life playing football and experience it with my friends there, I’ll get a world-class education (at UW). It was kind of a no-brainer,” said Van Dyke, whose brother CJ also went to UW.

Van Dyke has a chance to contribute quickly for the Badgers. UW lost kickoff specialist Zach Hintze and its top two punters to graduation. And while Collin Larsh is back at placekicker, his 12 of 18 mark on field goals last season could mean the spot is up for competition.

Van Dyke said he’ll compete for whatever role coaches want him to, whether it’s kicking or punting. He believes that because he’ll be focused solely on specialist work at the college level, he can make big gains quickly.

“My whole high school career I’ve been playing other positions. I put a lot of heart and time into playing those other positions just because I loved them so much, and kicking was part of it because I wanted to get recruited and go (to a Division I program),” he said. “I think I’ll definitely be able to critique my form and have coaches look at me 24-7. I’m just so excited to see where I can get my body to.”

Radke said Van Dyke has the right formula to push himself to becoming an elite specialist.

“I think it’s his mindset, his hunger and his overall dedication to it,” Radke said. “I’m fortunate to work with a lot of really talented kids, but his drive to be one of the best is there and he hasn’t peaked yet. I think he’s really going to develop into a fantastic prospect.”

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