Ex-Michigan lineman Ryan Van Bergen fighting through foot injury in preparation for NFL Draft
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
He had to be helped onto a stage for the postgame news conference. He used crutches to traverse the locker room.
Turns out, the former Michigan defensive end played through a sprained ligament between the first and second metatarsals in his foot. The injury continues to prevent him from running, and has become a serious impediment to his preparations for the NFL Draft.
Van Bergen had to turn away interest from postseason all-star bowls. He was not invited to the NFL Combine, and he'll remain unable to run for the next couple of weeks as Michigan's pro day looms March 15.
But he's fighting.
And he's enlisted the help of a familiar face: Mike Barwis.
The former Michigan strength and conditioning coach under Rich Rodriguez has set up his own shop, Barwis Methods, located in nearby Plymouth. Barwis is training several former Wolverines as they prepare for the NFL Draft, including center David Molk, defensive lineman Mike Martin, offensive lineman Mark Huyge and tight ends Kevin Koger and Steve Watson.
And then there's Van Bergen, who sought out Barwis after — like many of his teammates — forging a close relationship with him during his three-year tenure at Michigan.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
What Van Bergen can do is play football well. He was a key figure in the Wolverines' turnaround this year, when they went 11-2, beat Ohio State and captured a Sugar Bowl title.
The Whitehall native flourished into one of the Big Ten's most commanding defensive lineman under the tutelage of head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, and scouts rave about his productivity.
Van Bergen's measurables, though, aren't explosive. He's not the kind of player who is going to put up flashy numbers in a bench press or vertical jump.
And, now, he's hindered by the foot injury, which won't require surgery but is preventing him from running. Speed was supposed to be a plus for him.
He said he once was clocked at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"One of my strengths, I think, is I run faster than everybody else thinks I can, for my weight," Van Bergen said. "It sucks, because it's limiting one of my positives."
Van Bergen is hoping NFL teams will look at his intangibles — like, playing on one foot in a BCS game.
"What I was trying to do was come off the ball on one foot, engage my block and then just hold him from pushing me backward, and fall into a gap when the running back was coming through," Van Bergen said. "That was my plan, and that was all I had left."
Barwis said Van Bergen's speed, for a guy with a 6-foot-6, 288-pound frame, makes him an attractive NFL candidate. But, he also noted Van Bergen has something that can't be taught: Fight.
"Ryan Van Bergen is a brawler," Barwis said. "He'll fight, he'll grind, and that's who he is all the time. I'm really hoping he can do the combine stuff because he's a guy who, in my opinion, is tremendously explosive and tremendously powerful and will excel in the running drills.
"I think he's committed to proving people wrong. I think he wants to show people Ryan Van Bergen is a tremendous athlete with a hell of a lot more heart than anyone you're going to draft."
Van Bergen has moved to Novi to be closer to Barwis Methods. He still lives with his old roommate, Molk, who also made the move, and Martin also lives nearby.
His agent, Miami-based Stanley Aimes of AMG, has fronted him money for his living accommodations and the workouts with Barwis.
"They showed a lot of faith in me," Van Bergen said. "I told them about my injury before I signed with them and they said, 'We don’t care. We’re going to finance you. We think you’re a sleeper. We don’t think people give you the amount of recognition and respect you should have for the way you finished your season. So, whatever you need, you got it. Whether or not you need surgery, we’ll get you on a team.'"
Van Bergen hopes to be running full speed in time for the pro day at Michigan. Meantime, he's focused on other areas of his training, most notably weight training.
"It’s just another hurdle," Van Bergen said. "It’s kind of been the story of our (team), as far as football goes. There’s been so many obstacles in the way of what we want, personally and as a team.
"Of course it’s not going to go smoothly. Why would it go smoothly now? But I'll find a way to persevere. Always do."
RELATED: Mike Martin, David Molk have been invited to the NFL combine; others will compete at Michigan's pro day on March 15
Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.
Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.
Unlike Mike Gittleson the strenth coach under LC who was let go with a full one yr severance upon RR arrival Mike Barwis has done nothing but support the kids and the program. Perhaps LC and Mr . Gittleson can learn something about who the true M Men really are
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.
Best of luck to Van Bergen and the rest of the guys training with Barwis; would love to see them all playing on Sundays. As for training with Barwis instead of UM staff. I don't think it has anything to do with regulations. As a coach you want your players sticking around, especially when pro day is at your own facility. All the former players that are now in the pros came back while graduating players stuck around when Barwis was there - see Brandon Graham, there's video of Barwis training him at UM facilities. You've got UM guys training for the combine; every Michigan hockey player in the area playing in the NHL trains there (more videos of that), Johnson, Hunwick, Ebbett, etc... UM baseball players as well, Inge, Foote, a lot of other pro athletes. Barwis is doing something right to get all of them and the obviously think he gives them their best shot to succed, a shame he didn't stay on. Couple of his guys went to UA but I'd have to guess the money wasn't in the offer for Barwis. He's got his own facility and from what I've heard he's opening several others around the state. I see him in college football, but I think he holds out for an elite school if he is going to make a move.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.
Does anyone else think that RVB is really Jack Black's secret lost brother? My comments about Barwis: For all his methods and accolades, during his 3 years at UM, one of the universal themes of those teams is that they got "gassed" in the second half and they got outmuscled at the front lines. Whether or not the players decide to work with him or Wellman, the results speak for themselves on the field. I don't wish Barwis ill--he sounds like an outside the box thinker and has found a niche that he may translate into a great business. But let's not confuse that business success with results on the field. His methods, simply put, did not translate into positive results.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.
I agree, heartbreak. I always felt that much of the blame for UM's collapse in the B10 under RR fell on the fact that they were outmuscled and out-conditioned. Even games that they were in at the half they disintegrated in the second half and were blown out. The results were the results. While I still feel that the conditioning played a role in that (this year's team was undoubtedly stronger and better conditioned), as justfortherecord states, the fact they never got any rest due to the previous coach's 'scheme' didn't help, either. It was probably a combination of both.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.
Well, you are right--no offense does put the defense in bad position, but that is an indictment of the former offensive "genius". But what about the numerous times that the defense got smoked in the first half by bigger teams? The Wisconsin and Iowa games from 2010 and the Mississippi State game from the Gator Bowl come to mind.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.
Yeah, either does giving the defense thirty seconds to rest before they are back on the field after the offense goes three and out - or scores in 20 seconds.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.
Ryan Van Bergen is one of those players you really want to see succeed in their pro career. Having pulled tendons in my feet, I can really sympathize with Ryan's plight. This is very painful and it's the type of injury which heals slowly. (My injury occurred during high school when I was a shot putter: ran 23 miles in a pre-season workout. Those days: Nike & Adidas- were yet far in the future. ) Best of luck, Ryan. Remember: Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. (– Woodrow Wilson)
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.
I am sure that Molk, Martin, Huyge, Koger, Watson and Van Bergen are training with Barwis for the same reason that many former Wolverines and professional athletes train with him......he's great at what he does. And, as Van Bergen points out, he was their strength and conditioning coach for three years. FYI, two Barwis assistants, I'm told, have gone with AZ with Rich. The players whose names appear in the above article deserve all the credit and accolades in the world for their stunning performance this year. Most of them went through three head coaches and stayed to become champions. Go Blue!
Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 2:30 a.m.
Champions? Of what?
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.
I think it's very interesting that Molk, Martin and Van Bergen are choosing to work out with Barwis over Hoke's staff to prepare for the NFL. I'm guessing all the haters that have spouted off about the Barwis "hype" are feeling a bit "off" this morning after reading this article. Count me as one of the very few that wanted to see Barwis retained by Hoke. Bad defensive coaching and execution under RR? YES! Poor conditioning or conditioning not fit for the B1G? No way.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.
Did any of these players graduate?
Wed, Jan 18, 2012 : 6:38 a.m.
Ryan graduated in December with a bachelors degree in sociology. I am unsure about Martin and Molk.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 12:01 p.m.
It's interesting the former players are working with Barwis instead of the current coach Wellman. It is also interesting Barwis did not join Rich Rod's staff in Arizona, I assume in favor of working on his new business here. It looks like Van Bergen is deadlift-shrugging 315lb,.. I'd be flat on the ground with Barwis screaming at me after one rep of that, but then again I'm an old man. Best of luck to him, I'm sure he'll make it to the NFL.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.
I would assume that the players chose Barwis to allow Wellman to keep busy with Team 133. They know what Michigan is after next season and they probably don't want to be in the way.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.
I agree with you on all counts. I'm wondering if there is some sort of policy that UM, Hoke, or NCAA has that does not allow current college strength coaches to work with players once they have an agent? Also, as for Barwis not joining RR, I would guess that he is probably getting paid more in his own private practice training NFL/other pro athletes than he would as a college strength coach, especially at Arizona.