FSU football, Vander Laan ready to back up recent preseason honors in 2014

BIG RAPIDS — With plenty of high expectations already placed on the Ferris State football team in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) for the 2014 season, those expectations have grown even larger with the recent recognition the Bulldogs received this week on the national level.

READY TO GO: The Ferris State football team gets ready to take the field prior to the start of a game last season. The Bulldogs have gained plenty of attention this offseason, with a total of seven players earning preseason All-American honors this week. (Pioneer file photos)

READY TO GO: The Ferris State football team gets ready to take the field prior to the start of a game last season. The Bulldogs have gained plenty of attention this offseason, with a total of seven players earning preseason All-American honors this week. (Pioneer file photos)

It started Monday when seven Bulldogs were named to the USA Football Preseason Division II All-American list and the hype train kept rolling when FSU junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan was named a candidate for the 2014 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) All-State Good Works Team on Tuesday before earning a Beyond Sports Network (BSN) Preseason All-America First Team selection on Thursday and capping off the week with a selection to the BSN’s Preseason All-GLIAC First Team on Friday.

Not to be outdone, junior defensive end Justin Zimmer also found a spot on the Preseason All-GLIAC First Team in addition to joining Vander Laan and senior defensive tackle Corey Stone, senior linebacker Darnell Morris, senior defensive back A.J. McEwen, junior offensive lineman Adam Bennett and senior receiver Jake Lampman on the USA Football All-American Team.

With the Bulldogs returning the bulk of last year’s roster that compiled an 8-3 overall record along with a second-place 8-2 finish in the GLIAC North Division standings to just miss out on the program’s first playoff bid in 17 seasons in the second year of Tony Annese’s tenure, it’s not hard to see why the Bulldogs have received plenty of love from coaches and publications on the national level.

Even with all of the positive press Ferris State has been showered with this offseason, Vander Laan said the Bulldogs know if they’re going to meet the expectations being placed on them for 2014, they’re going to have to continue to put in the work to back up those expectations.

“It’s nice to get that kind of recognition as an individual and for the team, but we know it’s just the preseason and we haven’t earned anything yet,” Vander Laan said. “We had a good year last year and it was cool to see people have faith in our team, but preseason awards don’t prove anything. The buzz is growing and people are definitely keeping an eye on us and we want to show people that we’re ready to meet those expectations.”

Vander Laan will have plenty of eyes locked on him this season after he ran for 1,607 yards last season, breaking the NCAA Division II all-time single season record for most rushing yards by a quarterback by topping the previous record that was set by Wofford’s Shawn Graves in 1989 with 1,484 yards.

As an early favorite for the Harlon Hill Trophy that goes to the best player in Division II, Vander Laan said he’s been given the opportunity to expand the playbook on offense to help balance out an FSU offensive unit that set a new team record for rushing yards in a season with 3,491 yards in 2013, breaking the record the Bulldogs set in 2012 with 3,369 yards.

“We’re very excited to show people what we can do offensively this season, especially with all of the players we have returning,” he said. “We’re all really comfortable both on offense and defense with this being our third year with coach Annese. We’ve definitely picked up the pace offensively and we’re really going to open things up this season.”

Vander Laan said he’s excited for the opportunity to become more of a passer this season, but he’ll still be using his legs to make plays for the Bulldogs in 2014.

“I threw a lot during the spring and I’m working every day to get better,” he said. “Coach Annese and our staff have put us in a position to succeed. Running will still be a part of our offense obviously, but we’ve definitely placed more of an emphasis on getting our passing game up to the level that our running game has been at.”

Even with the talent the Bulldogs have returning this season, Vander Laan said this year’s team is one of the closest teams he’s been on since he’s been at FSU.

“This is for sure the closest team I’ve ever been on,” he said. “The entire team is clicking together and this year, we feel like a big family. It’s nice to have everyone focused on the same goal.”

With the upward swing the Bulldog program has been on under Annese, Vander Laan said this year’s team is ready to establish a new set of expectations for future teams to follow.

“In the past, it used to be that if we finished over .500, that was a successful season for Ferris State,” he said. “We don’t want to settle for that. We want to win the GLIAC and we want to get to the playoffs and we all agree that we have the talent to do it. That’s what makes us strive to get better everyday and we’re going to keep putting in the work so that we can get to that level.”

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