VanDerMeulen ready to be a leaderWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For Rockets’ senior offensive tackle Mike VanDerMeulen, getting noticed isn’t a problem. At 6 feet, 7 inches and 304 pounds, VanDerMeulen is always one of the biggest players on the field and also has one of the biggest responsibilities at the left tackle position in protecting his quarterback. Now that Toledo head coach Tim Beckman has transitioned the Rockets from a team that rebuilds to a team that reloads year-in and year-out, VanDerMeulen knows that he and his teammates are going to get noticed now more than ever.
“It’s definitely nice,” VanDerMeulen said. “We’ve always kind of haven’t had many expectations since we’ve been here, so it’s a different feeling knowing that people are starting to realize who we are and things like that, and there’s more expectations. It’s a different attitude that you have to have, that you really have to step up to that now because there are those expectations, but it’s definitely a good feeling. We have a lot of experience on our team, and that will be really beneficial for us.”
VanDerMeulen is no stranger to that experience just because he’s a senior, but also because he’s started 37-straight games at left tackle for Toledo. After being redshirted in his first season with the Rockets, in 2008 VanDerMeulen became the first Toledo freshman to start at left tackle since current New England Patriots offensive lineman Nick Kaczur did it back in 2001. The Marshall, Mich. native has been vital to the Rockets’ resurgence on offense, a crucial component on an offensive line that helped Toledo rank third in the Mid-American Conference in rushing yards per game (167.4) and fourth in total offense (365.4) last season.
VanDerMeulen earned Third-Team All-MAC honors in 2010 as the Rockets finished 8-5 overall with a 7-1 mark in conference play. While VanDerMeulen is one of nine returning starters on the Toledo offense in 2011, the two starters lost to graduation both were linemen in right guard Nate Cole and center Kevin Kowalski. With new faces at those positions this year, VanDerMeulen is eager to step up on the offensive line as one of the team leaders.
“I just really want to become more consistent and dominant, and I want to take more of a leadership role and kind of be someone that’s looked to by the younger guys,” VanDerMeulen said. “We’re going to have a younger offensive line—a few new guys in there—and just really help them develop and make them comfortable. I really like to lead by example, but I think I need to start being more of a vocal leader as well, and that’s something I’ve been working on.
“I think it’s nice being older and being in that role. There’s some pressure as well, but that’s okay. I remember when I was in their position. It’s so nice to have someone older just to be there for you and keep you comfortable and make sure everything’s all right.”
Last year, the Rockets went from being picked to finish fourth in the MAC West Division by the MAC News Media Association in the preseason to tying for the second-best record in conference play and reaching their first bowl game in five years. Now that the tables have turned as Toledo will likely be one of the favorites to win the MAC this season, the soft-spoken VanDerMeulen is ready to prove it.
“It’s definitely new,” VanDerMeulen said. “You kind of like to be under the radar and underestimated at times because you can kind of surprise people. I don’t think we’ll be able to do that as much, but that’s okay. It’s a different feeling, and we’re just going to have to really step up to the plate and not only show teams how good we can be, but prove it to ourselves and just do it on a consistent basis.
“I think we can go as far as we want to. We returned mostly everyone from last year. We were so close last year, and if we can be more consistent on a week-to-week basis and really just play to our capabilities, we can go as far as we want to, really.”
Only time will tell how well the midnight blue and gold handle the attention.