BIG EDDIE IS BACK!: A potential NFL draft first-rounder, Placer grad Eddie Vanderdoes returns from ACL surgery for UCLA football on Bednarik watch list

By: Ike Dodson of the Auburn Journal
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NOV 2011 - Eddie Vanderdoes ends his junior campaign with 65 tackles and 10 sacks during a 9-3 season for the Hillmen. He captures the All-Pioneer Valley League Defensive MVP title for football and later lands on the All-PVL baseball team.

AUG 2012 - Local Heroes names a cheeseburger after Vanderdoes, the $12 “Big Eddie.” It has four 1/4-pound patties, four slices of American cheese, eight slices of bacon, two onion rings, lettuce and special sauce.

NOV 2012 - Eddie finishes his senior season at Placer with 72 tackles, a safety and nine sacks. Placer went 11-1, beating state champion Central Catholic in the preseason, but falling to visiting Escalon in the second round of the playoffs. Eddie is a two-time PVL defensive MVP and is picked for the 56th Annual Optimist All-Star Game.

JAN 2013 - Vanderdoes is named to the 247 Sports 2013 All-American Team and shines at the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. His four-star recruit status in 2012 is elevated to a five-star grade by most recruiting reports. He becomes the No. 2-ranked defensive tackle in the country by and ESPN’s No. 10 national recruit.

FEB 2013 - Having his pick of elite schools, Eddie chooses Notre Dame and signs his National Letter of Intent.

JUNE 2013 - Eddie departs from his commitment to Notre Dame and transfers to UCLA, though Notre Dame balks at releasing him from his NLI.

JULY 2013 - Auburn lawyers Andy and Sandy Amara aide Eddie’s appeal to the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee to get him released from his NLI with Notre Dame. He signs and plays for UCLA instead.

OCT 2013 - Eddie nabs 11 tackles in a loss to Stanford, the most by a Bruin defensive lineman since 1992.

DEC 2013 - Vanderdoes is named a Sporting News and Football Writers Association Freshman All-American after appearing in all 13 UCLA games as a true freshman. He also made the All-Pac-12 honorable mention list.

OCT 2014 - Vanderdoes scores a rushing touchdown against Utah, a rare opportunity for a defensive lineman. A week later, Big Eddie throws a punch at an Oregon player during a Pac-12 defeat his sophomore season. He apologized for the incident and avoided a Pac-12 suspension.

DEC 2014 - Eddie is awarded Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention status after a terrific sophomore campaign.

SEPT 2015 - Vanderdoes tore his ACL during a win over Virginia and underwent season-ending surgery shortly after, ending his junior season soon enough to save a year of eligibility.

JULY 2016 - Big Eddie hoists a 418-pound hang clean in the UCLA weight room during his road to recovery. A video of the lift gets plenty of traction on social media. Vanderdoes is added to the Bednarik watch list. The award has been presented to the College Defensive Player of the Year since 1995. He’s also on the watch list for Nagurski awards and the Outland Trophy.

AUG 2016 - Eddie begins fall practice at UCLA, a major step toward his return to the field. He regains his footing in Bruin garb and speaks of improved explosiveness off the ball. Major media outlets are touting him as a potential first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, expecting him to leave UCLA after his junior season this year.

It’s been 344 days since Eddie Vanderdoes has played football and the gridiron has missed him dearly.

The Placer High graduate, a godson of the Auburn community known to locals as “Big Eddie,” returned to the UCLA practice field Monday for the first time since he injured his knee in the opening game of 2015.

The redshirt junior defensive lineman is on the watch list for every major defensive award in NCAA football and being touted as a positional first-round NFL draft pick in 2017, but if you ask him, his world is no bigger than the blue and gold jerseys around him.

“I’m focused on doing my job, what’s best for the team within the scheme,” Vanderdoes said Wednesday after UCLA’s practice. “I want to help my team win football games, no matter what it takes.”

Vanderdoes said he heard a loud pop in his knee when he landed awkwardly on the turf after leaping to combat a pass from Virginia quarterback Matt Johns Sept. 5. The noise came from a tear of his ACL, an injury that used to end careers, but commonly leads to rehabilitation and full recovery for modern athletes.

Big Eddie underwent season-ending surgery in September and has dedicated the entirety of his offseason to a triumphant return to the trenches — that is, when he’s not visiting his alma mater.

“He came by and visited us last week, and man is he impressive looking,” Placer football coach Joey Montoya said. “I think he is going to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the whole country.

“When he comes by, our kids are just in awe. He’s a local celebrity and, on top of that, he’s just physically impressive.”

Listed at 6 feet, 3 inches and 325 pounds, Vanderdoes is NFL-ready talent personified. His athleticism is so extreme, UCLA coaches let him run the ball in goal line situations during his sophomore season. He even scored a touchdown against Utah.

Vanderdoes was the anchor of a dynamic UCLA defense last year, but the season was stymied by season-ending injuries to Vanderdoes, linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Fabian Moreau. Despite opening the season at 4-0, UCLA faltered to an 8-5 finish and defensive woes led to 40-21, 37-29 defeats to USC and Nebraska (Foster Farms Bowl) to close the year.

Vanderdoes is ready to aide UCLA’s turning of the page.

“I have only had three days to work on stuff, but I don’t think I am that far off of where I was last year,” Vanderdoes said. “I think I will be there after four to five practices. I feel more explosive this year than I was last year.

“My get-off (acceleration from the snap) is better than it was last year.”

A good test of explosiveness in the weight room is the hang clean, a lift that forces athletes to hoist a weighted bar from mid-thigh height, erupting upward before catching the pose below the chin. Baylor’s Andrew Billings (now with the Bengals) was touted by as the strongest player in the 2016 NFL. He has a reported hang clean of 400 pounds. Vanderdoes posted a 418-pound hang clean in July, the lift posted via Twitter video by UCLA strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi.

Other members of the Bruin staff are raving about Vanderdoes as well.

“It is great to have Eddie back,” UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure said. “He has worked hard to get himself ready and it shows here in the first couple of days of practice.

“Eddie provides a physical presence on the interior of the defense and is able to generate inside pressure on a consistent basis. Add that to the experience he brings to the defense and he is a huge plus for us.”

It’s a big time of year for the whole family. Vanderdoes’ parents, Eddie Vanderdoes III, and Behia Vanderdoes, prepare for a full season celebrating his return to the grid, while their daughter, Baylee Vanderdoes (2015-16 Auburn Journal Placer High Female Athlete of the Year), fights for playing time on the San Diego State women’s basketball team.

Big Eddie’s grandfather, Bernhard Peat, was recently inducted into the first class of the Placer High School Athletic Hall of Fame and was spotted on Placer’s campus last week, surveying the next class of Hillmen footballers.

It’s the place that Big Eddie calls home.

“There is a reason why I come back, because that’s where I came up, that’s the program that made me the football player that I am today,” Big Eddie said. “I really cherish and love those guys.”

The feeling is mutual.