DAVIE, Fla. — When you drink a glass of dark Ocean Spray cranberry juice, there’s a chance the cranberries were harvested by Miami Dolphins linebacker Vince Biegel and his family from their cranberry marsh in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
A small-town fifth-generation farmer who spent 10-hour summer days knee-deep in cranberry beds, Biegel took a unique journey to the NFL.
“The cranberry marsh was my only job growing up. It’s a hard job. It’s not a spotlight job. There’s not a lot of glory,” Biegel said. “I learned to take responsibility, have a strong work ethic and take advantage of your opportunities. Those qualities have taken me a long way.”
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The 26-year-old is now a starting pass-rusher and spirited leader for a 2-9 Dolphins team that will host the Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday (Fox).
Miami traded veteran linebacker Kiko Alonso to the New Orleans Saints for Biegel on Sept. 1, and while Alonso was the big name in the deal, Biegel was viewed by some as a special-teams throw-in. But in an extreme rebuilding season, the Dolphins searched for low-cost, diamond-in-the-rough keepers. They saw potential in Biegel beyond special teams.
Three months later, it’s clear the Dolphins won the trade. Biegel represents exactly what Dolphins coach Brian Flores is trying to build in Miami.
The cranberry man
Approximately 50% of cranberries harvested in the United States come from Wisconsin — primarily because of the sandy soil. Some of that originates from Wisconsin Rapids’ Dempze Co. cranberry marsh — a family business that celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer and helped shape Biegel into the man he is today.
Biegel started working on the marsh when he was 7 years old. The Dempze farm comes from his mom’s side of the family. His dad’s side of the family was all about football. His dad, Rocky, played linebacker at BYU. Biegel’s grandfather, Ken, played football at Wisconsin-Eau Claire and is in the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Life was a steady mix of cranberries and football. Vince Biegel chose his preferred life path early on.
“Growing up, football was my main passion. I pursued it relentlessly. My dad was unique in that he pushed school first, football second and working on the marsh third,” Biegel said. “But I never considered working at the marsh as a fallback like a bad thing. Our family takes great pride in that. Honestly, it’s still in the cards. I could see myself running my own marsh one day.”
Even as an accomplished Wisconsin Badgers defender, Biegel spent some of each summer working at the marsh.
“Harvest was my favorite. Harvest is when you see the fruits of your labor come to fruition,” Biegel said. “It’s sort of like when you get a sack.”
A couple of his teammates’ eyes widen when he discusses the Dempze cranberry sauce and cranberry apple crisp family recipes. Cranberries are his favorite fruit and Thanksgiving dish. His favorite drink? Half-cranberry juice, half 7UP. The cranberry man has taught his locker mates more about his favorite fruit than they could have ever dreamed.
As Biegel explains the cranberry farming process, Dolphins linebackers Jerome Baker and Deon Lacey chuckle to themselves. They have heard this story plenty. Biegel proudly continues, “Cranberries grow on vines in a cranberry bed, which is about the size of a football field. In our marsh, we have about 70 to 80 cranberry beds, so that’s 70 to 80 fields’ worth of cranberries.”
The cranberry man always planned to leave the marsh to pursue his NFL dreams, but when it’s all over, there’s a good chance he’ll return to cultivating a bed of berries.
Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel will be the first to tell you Wisconsin is the No. 1 producer of cranberries in the U.S. As a child who grew up on a cranberry marsh, Biegel shares how his experience shaped who he is on and off the field.
‘I love being’ in Miami
A week before the 2019 NFL season began, Biegel went from a championship contender with the Saints to one of the worst teams in football — a team that started the season 0-7. Surprisingly, he was ecstatic to join the Dolphins because of the “opportunity.”
Biegel was primarily a special-teams player with New Orleans; he played only two defensive snaps in 2018. He yearned for more. And then the trade happened.
“I really do love being here. When Miami traded for me, I knew it was going to be a great opportunity because this is a young team. It’s been all that and more,” Biegel said. “This is the opportunity that I’ve been able to grow the most from in my career from a football and leader perspective. I’m excited to hopefully stick around here for a long time.”
Biegel says being released by the Green Bay Packers — the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 draft — was the best thing for his career. As a kid who was from Wisconsin and who attended the University of Wisconsin, Biegel put too much pressure on himself playing for his hometown NFL team.
“A weight was lifted off my shoulder,” Biegel said about being cut by Green Bay in September 2018 and then signed by New Orleans. “I got back to the purity of playing football.”
Dolphins linebackers coach Rob Leonard says Biegel’s strengths are his motor and his physicality: “You don’t have to say anything to Vince to get him going, so I can coach that. I can tame you down. I can’t tame you up. He lights a fire to the whole defense. I just try to channel it to get that motor pointed in the right direction. Like, scout team: Don’t kill the quarterback.”
The Biegel buzz is real in Miami. He has become a favorite of the fans, coaches and teammates in a short time.
“Biegel consistently brings the energy. He’s the main one. Sometimes it seems annoying, but he brings it every day,” Baker said. “It’s definitely important. It’s a team. Some days it can’t just be him. Some days it has to be other guys. But for Biegel, no matter what is going on, he brings positive light out of it.”
‘The wins will come’
Biegel’s pass-rush ability, success setting the edge, high motor and infectious vibe have sealed his starting linebacker role. He leads the Dolphins in quarterback hits (11), and he’s second on the team in sacks (two). The first sack of his career came in Week 2 against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“Brady was the guy I wanted to sack most when I entered the NFL. That was a great experience and now I want more. I want to be the guy out there to provide that spark for us,” Biegel said. “One thing my dad always taught me was effort. There’s a lot of things you can’t control, but there’s one thing you can control and it’s your effort. For me, it’s a compliment when people say, ‘Hey, you’re a high-motor guy.'”
It doesn’t appear Biegel is leaving the Dolphins anytime soon.
“Pre-snap stuff is big for him and he can’t get enough reps. He’s only going to get better in my opinion because any guy that has a motor that burns hot like that is — you’ve just got to get it pointed in the right direction,” Leonard said. “He can definitely help us. I like Vince a lot. Guys like that are fun to be around, and they bring a lot of energy to the room, so it makes it fun to coach. There’s never a dull moment.”
Flores calls Biegel the team’s best edge-setter and stout in the run game. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham raves about his arm extension. Even if his role decreases when the team gets better, there should be a place for a guy like Biegel.
Plus, the locker room needs its cranberry man.
“I know there haven’t been a lot of wins this year. But the wins will come,” Biegel said. “I hope the fans know we have a lot of good things to look forward to in the future, and I’m hopeful I can continue to be a part of it.”