DE PERE – Aaron Vopal is a 6-foot-7, 290-pound lineman.
The De Pere senior also is a microcosm of how University of Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst is making sure the best players in his home base don’t cross state lines when it comes to recruiting.
Vopal signed his national letter of intent Wednesday with the Badgers after being the second player from the recruiting Class of 2017 to make a verbal commitment to the school a little more than a year ago.
Vopal was 40 pounds lighter then. He also had no other scholarship offers from NCAA Division I programs in Power 5 conferences.
After returning to football after choosing not to play as a sophomore, the future all-state defensive lineman flashed some of his potential as a junior. But he wasn’t on the radar of anybody outside of Wisconsin when Chryst made his formal offer last year.
Following Vopal’s verbal commitment, he continued to hear from other Big Ten suitors, including Michigan State, which had a member of its coaching staff make a visit to De Pere.
That was the same case for Stanford of the Pac-12 Conference.
But Wisconsin was there first. That means a lot to a budding in-state talent like Vopal.
“They were the first Power 5 school to offer him,” De Pere football coach Chad Michalkiewicz said. “I think that’s a testament to not only what they think Aaron’s potential is, but (high school) coaches around the state like to see that because when (Chryst) says he’s building a wall around the state I think for Wisconsin to be the first big school to pop on someone like Aaron shows Coach Chryst’s commitment to doing that.”
Vopal recorded 69 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4½ sacks in nine games in being named a first-team all-state choice by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and the Associated Press as a senior.
The Fox River Classic Conference defensive lineman of the year is being projected as a defensive end when he joins the Badgers.
“I’m going to work hard and whatever they want to do with me, it doesn’t matter,” Vopal said about what position he’ll play in college. “I’m there to play football. That’s all they wanted me to do, and I’m ready to play wherever they want me to play.”
Vopal added the 40 pounds to his frame in the past year by working out twice a day and eating a lot of protein. Specifically, a lot of chicken.
Despite having his twin brothers, Daniel and Jake, leave the house after graduating last year, the Vopals’ grocery bill remained largely the same due to Aaron’s diet.
“We really did run up a hefty grocery bill,” Vopal said.
“I just tried to eat a lot during the three meals I had. I couldn’t give you an exact calorie amount, but I would try to eat more than the average serving size.”
Wisconsin is getting a player that has strong bloodlines when it comes to athletics. Vopal’s father, Edward, was an offensive lineman at Northern Michigan University. His mother, Cynthia, has competed in Ironman triathlon competitions.
For Vopal, he knows signing his letter of intent is just the first leg of what he hopes to be a successful run with the Badgers.
“To go where I’ve always wanted to go is just an amazing feeling,” Vopal said.
“I’ve been committed for over a year now, so this has been a long process. To have it finally come to an end, and for this to be the peak of the recruiting process, is a wonderful feeling.”
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