BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
MADISON, Wis. — It started out as some good-natured trash-talking between father and son.
“He was in the kitchen and talking a little smack,” recalled the son, former Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel, a 10-game starter and the fifth-leading tackler for the Miami Dolphins in 2019.
“He was saying that I’m not that great of a pass-rusher and he could block me.
“I said, ‘Okay, let’s go outside and settle this the old-fashioned way.'”
In his day, Rocky Biegel could hold his own with anyone. That was many days ago. He’s now 51.
“For an old guy, he’s in pretty good shape,” Vince chortled. “He’s just not the Rocky of old.”
That Rocky was the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state as a high school senior at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln, where he played for his dad, Ken Biegel, a Hall of Fame coach.
That Rocky was also a two-time state wrestling champion who won every match by a pin his final season before matriculating to BYU. In 1991, he led the Cougars with 192 tackles.
That Rocky, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker, was a team captain and finished his BYU career with 371 tackles, the fifth-most in school history to this day.
That was the Rocky of old.
“Now I just call him an old farmer,” Vince teased.
My old man was talking smack that he could block me, so we settled it in the backyard…… 😂 😂 😂
— Vince Biegel (@VinceBiegel) May 11, 2020
Farming cranberries is in the Biegel DNA. Rocky and wife Jamie are fourth-generation cranberry growers. Jamie’s great grandfather, Charles Dempze, was the first to harvest 100 years ago.
The Dempze Cranberry Co. — “Rooted in Red” — is the family business, with their marsh covering 76 acres in central Wisconsin. This is where Vince and brother Hayden and sister Rochelle were raised.
“I know what the marsh is like,” Vince said. “I grew up in it. But what has been fun is being able to see my wife and daughter see the business firsthand. That’s most special for me.”
Vince and Sara Biegel and their young daughter, Willow, left Miami two months ago. Since then, they’ve been living with Rocky and Jamie in the village of Biron, just outside of Wisconsin Rapids.
Prior to everything shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Vince was training in Florida with some former UW players: Melvin Gordon, James White and Sojourn Shelton.
“We decided it was best for us to get out of South Florida and we ended up coming back here to Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s been super awesome. The last time I spent this much time back home was when I was in high school. We have good resources here and we’ve been able to make the best of the circumstances.”
Biegel has been utilizing a home gym, the same workout area where he lifted weights and developed his body as a teenager who eventually opted for the Badgers over his dad’s alma mater.
His bedroom — once the showcase for all the awards that he collected as a prep star, including the Gatorade Player of the Year (same as Rocky) — is now being used as Willow’s nursery.
Biegel played the 2018 season in New Orleans, where Willow June Biegel was born. Willow?
“Willow is my wife’s doing,” he said. “I think some of those willow trees in New Orleans played a little bit of an influence. Her middle name, June, is my wife’s grandmother’s middle name.
“I jokingly told Sara, ‘You get a little more say in naming the girls if I get a little more saying in naming the boys.'”
The Biegels have a dog that fetches to the name of Lambeau (as in Lambeau Field in Green Bay, which was Vince’s mailing address with the Packers for the 2017 season).
“Our next dog,” he promised, “we’re going to name Archie. After Archie Manning.”
That would be in honor of the former New Orleans Saints quarterback. The dog after that, Vince pledged, will have a connection to the Miami Dolphins.
The name game. Vince was named after Vince Lombardi and Rocky (short for Rockne) after Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne. Rocky’s brother T.J. is a Thorpe David (Thorpe for Jim Thorpe).
During the short time that Vince and Sara have been in Wisconsin Rapids this spring, they’ve lent their name to a local fundraiser — “Wheels for Traeh” — for 12-year-old Traeh Paulin.
Born with two holes in her heart, Paulin has been challenged with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. A GoFundMe has been started to raise money for a wheelchair-accessible van.
Vince donated two of his football jerseys: one from the Packers (No. 45), the other from the Dolphins (No. 47, his UW number). Traeh touched Sara’s heart. She has a cousin with Down syndrome.
“Sara studied rehab psychology at Wisconsin and worked with people with disabilities. It really hits home for her,” Vince said. “It’s something she’s passionate about and I’m passionate about.
“Being a Central Wisconsin family, we wanted to help out in any way that we could to provide a resource (the van) for her.”
Vince Biegel’s passion has been well-chronicled. He has often talked about how “football was my main passion growing up” and how he has “pursued it relentlessly” from his formative years on.
In this context, Rocky made Vince prioritize by pushing academics, football and working in the cranberry marsh. In that order of importance. Many father-son talks were about effort.
One talk, in particular, kitchen trash talk, led to that backyard one-on-one with Rocky lining up as a left offensive tackle and Vince as an edge rusher in a two-point stance.
“I’ll let the viewers decide who won,” said Vince, who posted the video on his Twitter account.
It didn’t stop there. Later on, Hayden Biegel wanted a piece of his older bro.
“He was talking smack saying I wanted to beat up on our dad,” Vince remembered. “He wanted to defend our family honor. So, I said, ‘Let’s go outside …'”
Update at the Biegel’s: My brother Hayden who played OT at Wisconsin said he could beat me one more time 1on1. So we settled it in the backyard. 😂 😂 😂
— Vince Biegel (@VinceBiegel) May 12, 2020
As a redshirt sophomore, Hayden started four games at offensive tackle for the Badgers in 2015 before retiring from the sport. His playing weight was 300. He’s much less now.
“I used a speed rush to spin move and I ended up knocking him over,” Vince said. “In his defense, he had just come out of the office where he was working all day.”
(Hayden is supply chain manager for a Stevens Point mill.)
“I was in the middle of my training session, so I had a little unfair advantage on him. We had some good laughs.”
• • • •
Vince Biegel will never forget the time that he sacked quarterback Tom Brady as a Dolphins linebacker. It was his first NFL sack and it came against New England in the second game of 2019.
“It was actually a secondary move,” he explained of his pass rush. “I compressed the (Patriots) tackle in the pocket, fell inside and got an easy sack.
“In the game of football, it’s a lot of luck. Sometimes you get off a great rush and you don’t get there (to the QB). Sometimes you get a layup. It was fun to get my first layup against Tom Brady.”
Biegel didn’t have much luck in Green Bay. Early on, he reinjured his foot.
“Honestly, I was never 100 percent,” he confided. “But I give Green Bay a lot of credit. When I got hurt, they re-did both of my feet. And they were really patient in bringing me back slowly.
“I’m extremely thankful for that. If they had wanted to get their fourth-round draft pick out there (sooner), I might have had foot problems for a while, but they let me heal.
“I valued my time in Green Bay. It was a special year to be able to play close to my family and friends. And I was thankful for my time in New Orleans because it allowed me time to develop.
“I was playing in a new system with the Saints with new coaches and that really prepared me for my time in Miami. God has a plan for me and I continue to trust it.”
Save for two defensive snaps, Biegel was exclusively a special teams player in New Orleans.
Prior to the start of the ’19 season, the Saints traded Biegel to Miami for Kiko Alonso. Biegel eventually won a starting job and finished with 59 tackles, 39 more than his first two years combined.
“It’s clear the Dolphins won the trade,” ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe wrote. “Biegel represents exactly what Dolphins coach Brian Flores is trying to build in Miami.”
Biegel was merely looking for a chance to show what he could do, and Flores gave it to him.
“Coach Flo had a lot of confidence in me,” Biegel said, “and it rubbed off on our defensive coordinator and it rubbed off on our position coach. But it all really started with Coach Flo.”
A self-anointed mullet enthusiast, Biegel summarily emerged as a fan favorite with his hustle.
South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Safid Deen wrote that Biegel’s season “ended with a standing ovation from fans as he walked off the Hard Rock Stadium field with a hyperextended elbow.”
That injury sidelined him for the season finale at New England. By then, he had already made a name for himself with the Dolphins, who signed him to a one-year tender in early April. Biegel was not the only Badger to find a home in South Florida. Michael Deiter, a third-round pick of the Dolphins, started 15 of 16 games at left guard.
“Your rookie year in the NFL is tough because you’re getting so many things thrown at you,” Biegel said, “and you’re living in a new place with a new team and new scheme.
“Deiter did a great job. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in year two.”
Meanwhile, outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, a fifth-round pick, started the season on injured reserve and wound up appearing in six games with one start for the Dolphins.
“He did a nice job at the end of the season coming in and being able to produce,” said Biegel. “I know Andrew will take some more leaps and bounds forward this year.”
One of Biegel’s late-season highlights was intercepting Eli Manning in his final home game with the New York Giants. “I have a lot of respect for Eli,” he said, “and the Manning family.”
That football will forever have a place in Biegel’s man cave. But he knows that he will have to prove himself all over again, especially with a new defensive coordinator and position coach in Miami.
“For you to be able to have opportunities, you have to produce and be a guy who’s smart and understands the playbook,” he said. “I’m looking forward to gaining the respect of the coaches.”
He’s also looking forward to the 2020 season despite all the unknowns due to COVID-19.
“We’re going to have a season — players understand that you have to have that mindset, that we’re having a season,” he said. “I’m locked into what I can do to get myself ready for that season.
“I’ve been creative with the resources around me here in Wisconsin Rapids, so that when I get to training camp — whenever we come back — I’m in the best shape that I can be.”
For now, home cookin’ on the cranberry marsh agrees with him. And his family.