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Ferentz Believes Van Ness Will Follow Pro Bowler’s Path

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who has sent plenty of players to the NFL, talks about his latest prodigy, Green Bay Packers first-round pick Lukas Van Ness.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – In January 2019, Iowa Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz visited Barrington (Ill.) High School. Directed to the library, he found Lukas Van Ness.

“He looked like a nice young kid,” Ferentz recalled on Thursday night, not long after the Green Bay Packers drafted Van Ness in the first round. “He was, what, 6-5 and 220 and he looked like a nice young kid.”

Six months later, Van Ness attended an Iowa football camp.

“He had really grown and taken some steps,” Ferentz said. “He went from being a guy that might be a prospect to certainly a prospect.”

After the camp, Ferentz extended a scholarship offer to Van Ness.

“He was not a national recruit but, in retrospect, could have been,” Ferentz said. “He was just a guy who was on his way up. The next time I saw him after that, he was on [hockey] skates and pretty imposing with skates on. Looked like he was 7 feet tall.”

Van Ness was the Hawkeyes’ 17th-ranked recruit. On Thursday, he was the 13th pick of the NFL Draft. In his opening remarks, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst raved about Van Ness’ upside.

“I think his best football’s ahead of him,” Gutekunst said.

Ferentz made an interesting comparison between Van Ness and one of the best players his powerful program has produced: offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, an All-Rookie choice as the 13th pick in 2020 and a Pro Bowler in 2021 and 2022.

“He’s a strong, physical kid,” he said of Van Nees. “With Tristan Wirfs, the one thing I told people when Tristan was coming out – Tristan was a third-year player and was 20 and was a pretty good player at that point, too.

“But I just told them, ‘What you really have to do is look down the road two, three years. That’s where I really think you’re going to get a better picture of what he really is.’ Tristan’s gone on and done a great job. I think Lukas, as good as he is right now, I think he's still got a lot to tap into.”

After redshirting in 2020, Van Ness was darned good with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for losses during his two seasons. He played mostly defensive tackle in 2021 and mostly on the edge in 2022. Gutekunst projects Van Ness playing outside linebacker on base downs with the ability to move inside on passing downs.

“Quite frankly, he’s pretty good both ways,” Ferentz said. “He’s got the ability to play outside and beat you with his ability and speed and his power, and then we always believe guys like that can be a tough matchup on guards, and he’s pretty effective in there, also. It’s a good problem to have when you have a guy that gives you those kind of options.”

Like so many Iowa players, Van Ness is a self-made prospect. It took Van Ness only a year to put on about 60 pounds.

At the Scouting Combine, Van Ness measured 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds. With a 4.58 in the 40, his Relative Athletic Score was 9.39. Had he returned for one more season, Ferentz projected a top-five pick.

“The players do the work,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, he’s got the requisite skill-set and that developed. The biggest thing is they’ve got to put the work in. Some guys are better at that than others. Lukas has an extreme ability to work hard. He’s not afraid of that. We just saw him grow and improve in every phase at every turn.

“Really, this last year, I was in the weight room watching him training and was thinking, ‘This guy could be on any campus in America right now.’ And then his play caught up with that.”

Ferentz’s program is renowned for taking players who weren’t highly recruited and turning them into pros. Last year, 40 Iowa players were in the NFL, with 14 of those players starting more than half the games. That’s more starters than the likes of Oklahoma, USC, Florida State and Florida – four schools who generally have the pick of the recruiting litter.

So, Ferentz knows what successful NFL players look like. Why will Van Ness join that group?

“He’s got a great work ethic, he’s got the requisite skill-set and he’s serious about football,” Ferentz said. “He knows how to work, and that’s a big part of it. It all starts there.”

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