Ryan van Rensburg became a United States citizen in 2005.
In some ways, however, his American indoctrination came a few years earlier when he first joined the football team at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla.
It was there that his older brother, Shaun, delivered the instructions.
“My brother said, ‘You’re going to run the ball for us,’” Ryan van Rensburg said.
And did he have any idea what that meant?
“Not at all,” he said. “They drew me pictures before I went in, then I went in and ran it.”
Soon enough, van Rensburg learned the nuances of the game in football-crazed Florida. He quickly became a hot college prospect, and the journey culminated this week when he joined the Vanderbilt football squad as a freshman tailback.
Van Rensburg was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and grew up speaking Afrikaan, the dominant language in the Western one-third of his country.
His family began migrating to America in 2000. His father, Andre, was the first to arrive and established a real-estate company. His mother, Linda, is an artist and horseback riding instructor.
Van Rensburg spoke fluent English, but football was foreign. Rugby was his game.
Quickly, the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder blossomed into a physical specimen. He benched-pressed 400 pounds as a high-school junior. Last year, he won a state weight-lifting championship.
His strength, combined with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, demanded the attention of football recruiters.
“On film, he was just running through people, and he was fluid in his motion,” Vanderbilt running backs coach Kenny Carter said. “You knew he was doing it on athleticism, because he didn’t know enough about the nuances of the game to make a savvy move here or a savvy move there. You can’t teach the things he was doing naturally.”
While van Rensburg is likely headed for a redshirt season in 2007, he could be in line for playing time at tailback in the future.
At one point, he seemed destined to attend Furman, where his brother is a linebacker, before visiting Vanderbilt last year. Shaun van Rensburg turned out to be VU’s best recruiter when the family visited the Vanderbilt campus.
“He said, ‘Man, if you don’t come here, you’re selling yourself short,’” Ryan van Rensburg said. “That was it for me.”
Van Rensburg helped lead The Bolles School to the 2006 state 6A championship, rushing for 1,049 yards and 15 touchdowns and earning all-state honors.
Other colleges, most notably Alabama, made a late pitch before he finally signed with Vanderbilt in February.
“If you meet his family, you would understand,” Carter said. “You knew it was done. When they said they were coming here, it was over.”
Van Rensburg recalls the day an Alabama coach made a telephone call to The Bolles School.
“My coach was with them on the phone, and he said, ‘Ryan, what do you think about Alabama?’” van Rensburg said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, Coach. My word is my word.’”
In Afrikaan or English.
GOLD NUGGETS: Ten new invited walk-ons are practicing with the Commodores: receiver Chris Crooks of Cummings, Ga.; linebacker Davis Flowers of Dothan, Ala., safety Will Parker Roe of Humboldt, Tenn., safety Duane Vaughn of Goodlettsville, defensive lineman Bo Cramer of Charlotte, N.C., linebacker Elvio Tropeano of Pomfret, Conn., offensive lineman Chris Aaron, a sophomore transfer from Lehigh who is originally from Palos Verdes, Calif., defensive lineman James Elledge of Birmingham, Ala.; and offensive lineman Garrett Snoeyenbos of Brentwood. …Vanderbilt is slated for evening practices in helmets and shorts today and Thursday before going into full pads for Friday night’s practice. ...VU’s annual “Dore Jam” Fan Day will be held Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at the John Rich Practice Facility.