Lord of the Rings

  • By Larry Henry / Special to The Herald
  • Friday, August 5, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

He lays the rings on a table.

Clink. Clink. Clunk.

Doug VanderWel shows off his three championship rings. The college sophomore won two while playing on the Archbishop Murphy football team and then won one as a freshman on the Carroll College NAIA national championship team.

The sounds cause a woman sitting nearby to stop reading her book. She looks up, glances over. The rings catch her eye.

Her expression says – nice.

She goes back to reading, unaware how the rings got to this fitness gym in Marysville.

Dirt. Sweat. Aches. Pains. Hundreds of hours of lifting, running, hitting.

That’s how they got here.

Not cheaply. Not without great effort.

The rings are the rewards for excellence on the football field.

Two of them – clink, clink – for state high school championships. The other – clunk – for a national collegiate championship.

Doug VanderWel sits looking at them. “Pretty amazing,” he says.

Amazing that one young man could already have three championship rings before the age of 20.

VanderWel got the first two as a standout two-way player for an Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy team that won Class 1A state titles in 2002 and 2003.

He got the third as a member of a Carroll College team that won a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championship in 2004.

Three years, three major championships.

Indeed, amazing. And things could get even more amazing this fall.

Carroll lost just five players off a team that brought the small private Catholic school in Helena, Mont., its third straight national championship.

“I think this team definitely will” compete for another title, VanderWel said recently.

“The key,” said coach Mike Van Diest, “is players like Doug. The backups. We want them to have the attitude that they’re as good as the players in front of them.”

VanderWel, like most of the freshman class, was redshirted last season, meaning he could practice, but not participate in games. His job as an outside linebacker: to help get the varsity ready for Saturday.

More often than not, the Fighting Saints were well prepared. They won all but two games during the regular season, then continued their postseason dominance, winning all four games, including the championship, a 15-13 victory over St. Francis, Ind.

It was the first three-peat in the NAIA since the mid-70s. And for VanderWel, it was championship ring No.3 in the past three years. And time, perhaps, for him to purchase a lottery ticket.

Or maybe he already struck it rich when he chose to attend Carroll.

“When I was looking for colleges, I saw Carroll College and it was mentioned that it had already won a national championship two years in a row and that made me really interested in the school,” he said. “I also wanted to be an engineer and they have a very good program for engineering.”

He made good impressions in both academics and football during his first year.

An honor student at ATM, he continued to excel in college, attaining a grade point average in the mid-3s during his first two semesters.

“I had a lot of classes (at ATM) that got me ready for college,” he said. “They got me prepared well-roundedly.”

Van Diest likes what he has seen of VanderWel. Likes his work habits. Likes the way he performed in spring practice.

“He came out of spring football a step ahead of some other guys,” the coach said. “Physically he’s got a lot of tools.”

Quickness being one of them. That’s one reason he could find himself lining up at defensive end as well as linebacker when practice begins Aug.12.

“He (Van Diest, who is also the defensive coordinator) likes my size and my quickness,” said the 6-foot-2, 205-pound VanderWel.

What VanderWel and the rest of the redshirt freshmen have to get used to is the Fighting Saints’ defensive terminology and the speed of the college game. “It’s so much faster than high school,” Van Diest said.

VanderWel shouldn’t have any problem with the mental aspects. He came to college with an academic scholarship, and off his performance on the practice field and in the offseason conditioning program, he was rewarded with some financial aide from the athletic department.

Which was welcome. Like most private schools, Carroll is pricey – around $27,000 a year.

To help make up for what isn’t covered by scholarships, VanderWel worked construction this summer, installing underground pipe at Woodland Park Zoo.

It’s all there in his resume, five neatly prepared pages covering not only the jobs he’s held in recent years, but his athletic and academic achievements at ATM as well as his community service work.

He was junior class president, captain of the football team his senior year, a member of the National Honor Society.

He’s done framing and roofing, operated a backhoe and a forklift. He’s unloaded trucks, mopped floors at the Marysville Food Bank. He’s volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Everett.

It’s no wonder his senior classmates at ATM voted him “Most Likely to Become President.”

He’s also had some fun jobs, if you can call working 13-hour days in the heat of Eastern Washington enjoyment. For two years, he was a ballboy for the Seahawks at their summer camp in Cheney.

He helped set up and take down equipment for practice and repaired gear. And those uniforms that get all sweaty and smelly in the 95-degree heat? He helped wash them.

It wasn’t all drudgery, though. He also got to catch passes from the quarterbacks during warmups and practice. Two years later, Matt Hasselbeck didn’t remember VanderWel’s name but he did recall one of his physical attributes.

“Big feet,” he said. “If it’s the guy I’m thinking of, he was like a size 14 at 16 years old.”

“That’s Doug,” said his father, Kurt, laughing.

When his work day ended at around 8 p.m., VanderWel would lift weights and run stairs to get ready for ATM’s season.

When the Hawks broke camp, he got to see what life was like in a high-pressure environment on game day. He was on the sideline providing fluids and towels for players as well as warming up the quarterbacks.

Now, as a football player, he has gone from one tradition-rich program to another. From a small high school that has been to the state finals three consecutive years to a small college that has been a national semifinalist each of the past five years.

That’s a hefty legacy to uphold.

“I think they cherish it,” VanderWel said of his Fighting Saints teammates. “They don’t brag about it or use it against other people, they just want to rebuild and be better than they were the year before. It’s a big deal but you’ve got to look past it because it’s already happened and now you’ve got to look to the future.

“Or, as Van Diest sees it, they have to “re-establish” the tradition every year.”

So far, they’ve done a dandy job of it.

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