Michigan State football signee Alex VanSumeren wields will power of a rare kind

ESSEXVILLE, MI – Before he even knew what will power was, Alex VanSumeren was gushing with it.

No mission was ever too tough, too taxing or too tiring to achieve.

And that’s how the new Michigan State University football signee was able to teach himself to pitch left-handed just to get a chance to take the mound in Little League as a 12-year-old boy.

“He had arm trouble that year, so he worked with his dad in the backyard all season, learning how to throw with his other hand,” said Nate Volk, who coached VanSumeren on the Harpham Chiropractic team at Bay City Southwest Little League.

“The other kids were laughing when he took the mound. He was wearing a left-handed mitt and it just looked funky on him. And this was a good team we were facing, a team that hit the ball all over the place – and he got them out 1-2-3. Nobody was laughing after the first batter.

“Had he gone out there and fallen on his face, it’s still the thought that counts. And the dedication and effort that he put into it is what Alex is all about.”

When VanSumeren put his mind to becoming a Division I college football player, few who knew the Essexville Garber phenom considered it a can’t-do ambition. With his will, there has always been a way.

With the left hand that fired strike after unlikely strike as a strong-minded Little Leaguer in 2016, VanSumeren scripted his signature on the national letter of intent that officially made him part of the MSU football program.

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive lineman invited a small gathering to Tank Elite Performance, the Saginaw training facility where VanSumeren has worked out since eighth grade, for his signing ceremony Wednesday.

After completing his Garber graduation requirements in four school days, he plans to depart for East Lansing as an early enrollee at Michigan State. There he’ll unite with big brother Ben VanSumeren, a linebacker in his junior year with the Spartans.

And a new mission begins for Alex VanSumeren.

Top Recruit

VanSumeren turned himself into one of the nation’s top-rated defensive linemen during his four-year varsity career with the Garber Dukes.

He notched 48 stops with 11 tackles for loss as a senior, harassing the quarterback for 28 hurries and six sacks while earning first-team All-State for the third year in a row. He is a two-time MLive Bay City Defensive Player of the Year and became the first player in the 57-year history of the Golden Helmet to earn four weekly honors.

This season didn’t go as well as planned for VanSumeren and the Dukes. Garber ended the season on a three-game losing streak and exited with a 5-5 record and VanSumeren missed most of the final three games with a shoulder injury. He didn’t match the production of his junior season as opponents turned more and more attention toward the DI prospect.

“This far into your career, teams are going to be gameplanning for you, scheming for you,” he said. “You’re going to see double- and triple-teams, but you can still impact the play. If you’re taking up blockers and somebody else makes the play, you did your job.

“(The double-team blocking) was an every-game, every-play type of thing. It does get frustrating, but you have to realize they’re not doing that to everybody, so I see it as a show of respect to me as a player.”

Michigan State football signee Alex VanSumeren wields will power of a rare kind

Garber’s Alex VanSumeren (21) heads toward the lockerroom before a game against John Glenn on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com

Through it all, VanSumeren’s training regimen grew legendary. He occasionally posted videos on social media of his pass-rushing drills and the behind-the-scenes work he put in on form and technique. He also enjoys “smashing weights” as a workout fiend.

“It’s definitely not easy, but I’m disciplined enough to know that’s what I have to do,” he said. “You can’t go easy on yourself, and that takes a lot of effort and focus.”

As a result, VanSumeren rocketed to No. 26 in the nation on 247Sports.com’s ranking of defensive linemen in the Class of 2022. He received scholarship offers from heavy hitters such as Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, Texas A&M, Penn State, Stanford and more.

After originally giving a verbal commitment to Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan, he changed course last winter and landed at Michigan State. When he officially signed with the Spartans on Wednesday, it capped a journey many years in the making.

Grass Roots

VanSumeren’s athletic resume began the old-fashioned way, playing in the backyard and driveway with his big brother. The sons of Cindy and Jeff VanSumeren were both highly skilled – and highly competitive – at a young age.

“I bought them a video game system when they were little and the thing sat in a box for a year before they got it set up and plugged in,” Jeff VanSumeren said. “They were always outside doing something.”

In a family that emphasizes morals such as faith and work ethic – Dad is in law enforcement and Mom is an educator – Alex learned early that he was expected to earn everything he got. Trying to keep up with a brother who has three and a half years on him helped drive home that point.

Michigan State football signee Alex VanSumeren wields will power of a rare kind

Alex VanSumeren is heading into a season of high expectations at Essexville Garber.

“They had a backyard football league and I could see the field out our back window,” Jeff VanSumeren said. “I would stand in the house and watch out of concern for Alex because he was three or four years younger than the other kids. He took his lickings, but he dished them out, too.”

Alex said he didn’t spend his entire youth in a headlock, but Ben didn’t go easy on him either.

“He was a really good influence on me, a good role model,” Alex said. “He was tough on me, and he’s always been very competitive. All of that definitely helped me along the way.”

Like Ben, Alex excelled while playing basketball at Zion Lutheran in elementary and middle school, competing in football in the Bay Area Youth Football League and with the Essexville Jags and playing baseball at Southwest Little League.

Not just the big kid, VanSumeren played point guard, running back and shortstop, displaying upper-echelon athleticism. But he also showed a rare level of determination to do things many thought unlikely.

Teaching himself to pitch left-handed is the perfect illustration.

“Just athletically to be able to do that is remarkable, but having the dedication to do that is what sets him apart,” said Volk, who attended VanSumeren’s signing wearing his 2016 Harpham Chiropractic ballcap.

“He’s the only kid I can remember at that age who never took a moment off. He gave full-blast effort all the time, sucking every moment dry trying to get better.”

Mission Accomplished

In between middle school basketball highlights in 2017, VanSumeren typed up his first “recruiting” post on Twitter. Following Ben to Missouri, he posed for a photo wearing a Mizzou uniform.

It wouldn’t be long before those recruiting trips were his own and his college football mission had begun.

Michigan State football signee Alex VanSumeren wields will power of a rare kind

Essexville Garber coach Jake Coquillard stands with Alex VanSumeren after he signed with the Michigan State University football team.

“Seeing Ben’s experience, a seed was planted in Alex’s head that ‘This is what I’m doing,’” Jeff VanSumeren said. “You kind of take it with a grain of salt, but then it starts progressing and suddenly it’s a reality and it’s here.

“You want your kids to be passionate about something, set goals and work. And hopefully those dreams get attained. The difference between dreams and reality is taking action, and they both did that – on their own. They were never pushed by me or Cindy. This is not something we ever envisioned for them.”

But Alex had big plans for himself, and he laid the groundwork for his lofty goals with a work ethic, a passion and a will power that has long set him apart.

“When he played in the yard – and that’s where all this came from – it was always ‘One more,’” Jeff VanSumeren said. “Whether I was hitting him a ball or throwing him a ball, it was always ‘One more, dad.’ If I had a dime for every time I heard that, I’d be a rich man.

“And he still does that today. Yesterday in the driveway, I was out there with him while he was working on pass rush moves, and I said ‘I’m done’ and he said ‘No, one more.’ The kid never stops.”


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