No quit in Van Geffen

Senior running back used perseverance to see playing time and lead team

Photo by Anna Mateffy

Photo by Anna Mateffy

Story by Nick Erickson, Editor in Chief

Earlier in the season, UW-Eau Claire head football coach Todd Glaser stopped what had been a somewhat lethargic practice and delivered a talk in hopes of energizing his team.

In the talk, he called up fifth-year senior Jon Van Geffen and put his hand on his shoulder pads. The usually reserved coach boisterously said he would go to battle with Van Geffen and invited the rest of the team to give him that sense of confidence.

That’s the kind of trust Glaser has in his captain’s work ethic and ability to rally a group of people.

But Van Geffen, who has spent most of his career at tailback and fullback, has never found the endzone to score a point for his coach. In fact, he hadn’t actually played much of a role on game days until his senior season.

He will leave the Blugold football program without the glamorous stats or highlight reel of game-changing plays. But his legacy will last a long time for the blue and gold.


An all-conference athlete at Shiocton High School, Van Geffen, who had an older brother playing for the Blugolds at the time, enrolled in Fall 2010 with hopes of suiting up in the Notre Dame-esque uniforms of Eau Claire.

But a lingering shoulder injury in high school  and mono kept Glaser from putting Van Geffen on the roster his first year on campus. And then in 2011, he got surgery on that shoulder. He questioned whether or not it was worth the grind to fulfill his goal of playing college football.

He had a group of teammates and a support system at home who had his back through everything and made it too hard to walk away from football.

“All the guys on the team were still there for me, so it’s not like I was off the team ever,” Van Geffen said. “It was pretty easy with the group of guys I played with, and it made the decision pretty easy to stick with it.”

Now, he’s come full circle. Four years later, his teammates voted him a captain for the 2014 season. And he has finally made the transition from scout team to playing time, as he seen action in all nine games and has 84 yards on 25 carries throughout this year.

“His perseverance has been great,” Glaser said. “He’s a kid who never quit trying and always worked hard, and it’s paid off now that he’s playing as a senior. A lot of kids would have stopped way back when they were a junior playing on scout team still.”

His mother, Colleen, was one of his biggest supporters in getting him back out onto the football field.

She helped him with his physical therapy and provided positive reinforcement on difficult days. She said he always kept the big picture in mind and remembered why it is more than just a game and why it was more than just about himself.

“He was always very focused on what he could do for the team, and he knew that he had to keep trying and be a good role model for everybody else,” she said.

His work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates, which is largely why they gave him the keys to the kingdom and made him a captain.

He brings the energy to practice and games. While he isn’t vocal in a sense of getting in people’s faces, he provides that spark in situations when they’re necessary.

Fellow captain Jayden Dobbs said his passion and willingness to give 100 percent every time on and off the field is contagious to the rest of the players on the team.

“Jon is the type of guy that this team is fueled by,” Dobbs said. “He always has a great attitude, is extremely vocal and he is the type of character that we want to represent our football team. He is a guy that will be there for you off the field as well. That’s what makes him a great leader.”

Part of the package at the Division III level is being well-rounded. Almost always, players go professional in something other than sports.

Van Geffen gets that, and not only does he lead by example on the field, but he also does in the classroom, as the political science major is off to law school after graduation.

Glaser said the first things that comes to mind when he thinks of his fifth-year senior running back are words along the lines of determination and grit.

“He’s been extremely hard-working his entire career,” Glaser said. “He’s done everything we’ve ever asked him to as a football player, as a student – I think it shows in his academics as he’s going to law school – and he’s just a kid that gives you everything he has.”

There’s an old saying that patience is a virtue, and it has defined Van Geffen’s career as a Blugold football player.

This year, he has used what he learned from his journey to playing time to his teammates. The Blugolds enter Saturday’s finale against UW-La Crosse with a 1-8 record, and a span of seven straight losses tested the patience of his teammates and coaches.

The always energetic Van Geffen made sure his teammates stayed positive by making sure he came to practice every day ready to improve and make that next step. It’s an approach he grew used to in his time with the Blugold football program.

“You’re not going to win every game; you’ve just got to work as hard as you can each and every week, and eventually it will be there for you,” he said. “You can’t just give up on something.”

Saturday will be the final time Van Geffen slips on the No. 28 uniform he dons. But it won’t be the last time he is used as a role model for the others in the program.

“Kids get to see a kid who came in here and didn’t play a lot his first three or four years, but his last year, he was able to play because of his perseverance,” Glaser said. “He never gave up; he never felt sorry himself. He always did what was best for the team.”

Kickoff against the Eagles is set for 11:30 a.m. at Carson Park.