INDIANAPOLIS – Top NFL draft prospect Lukas Van Ness was as bummed as anybody at the NFL Combine this week when he learned that the Blackhawks traded Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers.
Van Ness, a Barrington native, grew up playing hockey, along with football.
“That was a sad day,” Van Ness said. “I’m a Kaner fan. I grew up watching them going through their Stanley Cup days, and obviously was a huge fan, but [I’m] sad to see him go.”
He grew up a Bears fan, too, and he might look pretty good in blue and orange next season. The 21-year-old Van Ness played defensive end at Iowa and is projected to be a first-round draft pick in April. He has risen from a relatively obscure prospect to a potential first-round pick in a matter of months.
Van Ness has the physical attributes that earned him the nickname “Hercules” at Iowa. One of his teammates called him that during an interview one day and the nickname stuck. He’s chiseled and he looks the part of an NFL pass rusher.
He impressed Thursday night during his combine workouts. Notably, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and did the three-cone drill in 7.02 seconds. Not bad 6-foot-5, 272-pound man.
An offensive lineman and a pass rusher in high school at Barrington, Van Ness didn’t even crack the top 1,000 recruits in 247Sports’ composite rankings in 2020. He redshirted at Iowa in 2020 and played primarily at defensive tackle in 2021. As a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, he tied for the team lead with seven sacks. Not until last season did he move outside to the edge. In fact, he is a potential first-round pick despite the fact that he never technically started a game at Iowa.
He did, however, see a significant number of snaps last season, despite not starting. He totaled 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 13 games.
“I was happy with the rotation and the organization that we had,” Van Ness said. “I put full trust in [the coaching staff] putting us out there. And, again, every time I stepped on the field, it was just another opportunity to go play the game I love and it’s another opportunity to prove myself.”
As if being a local product weren’t enough of a Chicago connection, Van Ness’ girlfriend, Frankie Kmet, is Bears tight end Cole Kmet’s younger sister. The Kmets grew up in neighboring Lake Barrington, not far from where Van Ness grew up. Van Ness and Cole Kmet have the same agent.
“[It’s] obviously a cool connection,” Van Ness said. “It’d be fun to play alongside him.”
Van Ness’ combine results Thursday are further proof of the all-around athlete he is. He might be somewhat raw at the edge rusher position, but he has the physical traits to be really good at it. He has always been a well-rounded athlete.
On the hockey rink, he was a big burly defender who, admittedly, earned too many penalties. He was so much bigger than some of the other kids on the ice that the referees couldn’t help but call penalties on him when he knocked over a smaller opponent.
During his senior year, the hockey team at Barrington was in the state semifinals when the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the season. One more win and Van Ness would’ve been playing in a state championship game at the United Center – just like Kane did for so many years.
“I attach hockey to a lot of my skills and my balance that I have today,” Van Ness said. “Hockey requires a lot of agility. It’s a hard sport to play. It’s very physical. It’s very demanding. And a lot of those attributes contribute to the player I am today on the football field.”