A year ago, Greg Van Roten was snapping the ball to an All-Ivy quarterback.
Now, he’s doing it for a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion.
Van Roten, who graduated from Penn in the spring of 2012, is now more than halfway through his rookie NFL season with the Green Bay Packers.
“Obviously you can’t help feeling nervous when it’s your first game, your first time on the field,” Van Roten said. “But they expect you to be ready to go, and you have to be ready.”
Van Roten was signed by the Packers in the summer after participating in regional combines at the Jets’ and Chargers’ minicamps. Despite NFL scouts telling him there was “basically no interest,” Van Roten persisted to pursue his dream, and the Packers finally came calling.
Though he failed to make the 53-man roster out of training camp, the team signed him to its practice squad on Sept. 6.
What do practice squad members do when Sunday comes?
“I watched the games from the box,” Van Roten said.
Not a bad spot to watch an NFL game, but obviously not ideal for a player who’s gunning to be on the field.
His chance came in Week 5, when running back Cedric Benson suffered a Lisfranc injury. Benson’s injury was serious enough to sideline him for an expected two months, and his open spot on the roster went to Van Roten.
“All of a sudden I was dressed for the games and on the sidelines,” Van Roten said. “That’s the moment when the fact that I’m actually in the NFL became real for me.”
Van Roten now serves as the Packers’ backup center and guard, and though he hasn’t seen any snaps yet, he said he has to be ready to play at any moment.
“I’ve had to prepare like I was going to start, basically,” Van Roten said.
That means protecting star quarterback Aaron Rodgers in practice.
“It’s surreal because I’ve grown up watching him play,” Van Roten said. “Getting to practice with him and see him around the locker room is crazy.
“But in practice, it doesn’t matter who’s back there. You’re a lineman and you just have to do whatever you can to protect the quarterback, whoever it is.”
Besides getting to play with stars like Rodgers, Van Roten said the opportunity to participate in some of the NFL’s outreach programs has been particularly rewarding. He recently traveled to Milwaukee to help lead an NFL Play 60 program, an outreach initiative that encourages children to play outside for 60 minutes a day to combat child obesity.
“I’m in a position where I’m visible and I can give back,” Van Roten said. “And growing up I always thought that was something I’d want to do.”
Asked if he had any advice for current Penn players hoping to pursue a professional career, Van Roten said to be stubborn and persistent.
“It’s not easy, it’s a lot of hard work,” he said. “But if it’s where you want to be, if it’s something you want to do, you have to go and take it.”