Ferris State Football’s Jason Vander Laan wins Harlon Hill Trophy

FSU quarterback Vander Laan wins Harlon Hill Trophy as top player in Division II

GRAND RAPIDS — Week in and week out, Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan put up eye-popping statistics leading the Bulldogs to an 11-0 regular season and the Bulldogs’ first playoff berth since 1996, but he was always quick to deflect the credit for his success to his teammates and coaches.

Having a humble superstar player is a dream situation for any football team, but there was no denying the impact Vander Laan had for the Bulldogs this season and the 168 sports information directors in Division II thought just as highly of the dual-threat quarterback by selecting him as the winner of the 2014 Harlon Hill Trophy for the best player in Division II on Friday.

MEET THE PRESS: Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan talks with the media at a Harlon Hill watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Grand Rapids on Friday. Vander Laan was named the 2014 Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the most outstanding player in Division II, marking the first time a Bulldog has won the award in the program’s history. (Pioneer photo/Greg Buckner)

MEET THE PRESS: Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan talks with the media at a Harlon Hill watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Grand Rapids on Friday. Vander Laan was named the 2014 Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the most outstanding player in Division II, marking the first time a Bulldog has won the award in the program’s history. (Pioneer photo/Greg Buckner)

Vander Laan received 152 total points, including 34 first-place votes, to edge Henderson State (Ark.) senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers by eight points to become not only the first Bulldog in the program’s 106-year history to win the award, but also only the third player from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) to take home the trophy.

Grand Valley State’s Curt Anes was the first GLIAC player to win the award in 2002, followed by Wayne State’s Joique Bell, who currently plays for the Detroit Lions, in 2009.

At a watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Grand Rapids, Vander Laan continued to give credit to everyone but himself as he gave a speech in front of his family, friends, supporters and his coaches and teammates following the official announcement.

“I want to let you guys know I couldn’t have done any of this without any of you guys, especially my linemen,” an emotional Vander Laan told the crowd. “I love you guys and this is a great year and I couldn’t do anything without you guys.

“Thanks mom and dad and all of the fans for supporting me,” he continued. “You guys love me and I love you too and you’re always with me everywhere I go. I just can’t say how thankful I am for you guys for being a part of my life and being here right now to celebrate with me.”

Vander Laan led the Bulldogs this season with 1,466 rushing yards with 20 touchdowns while completing 183-of-275 passes for a career-high 2,381 yards and 30 scores. The junior led the nation in rushing at all NCAA levels and was first in Division II in points responsible for (300) and third in passing efficiency (170.2).

The play of Vander Laan helped Ferris State have the second-best total offense in Division II (524.8 ypg) on the way to a school-record 559 total points this season, with Vander Laan individually breaking the previous program records for total offense and career rushing yards in 2014.

Ferris State head coach Tony Annese has had a first-hand view of Vander Laan’s maturation process ever since Annese was hired at FSU on Dec. 22, 2011.

Vander Laan was redshirted his freshman year in 2011, but Annese said he knew right off the bat what type of player he had the first time he saw Vander Laan as a redshirt freshman that following spring.

“I saw what I had in spring ball and I said ‘Jason Vander Laan will win the Harlon Hill Trophy,’” Annese said. “I said it the first spring ball. I was that confident that he had that kind of skill to be this caliber of player.

“Plus, he’s got a unique skill set,” he continued. “He can run like a fullback and throw the ball like some of the best quarterbacks in the nation. But what’s most important is his offseason commitment level, his determination to be the best he can be. He just won the Division II Player of the Year, but I guarantee you he’s not going to be content with that.”

While the athletic feats Vander Laan showcases when he takes the field are impressive, Annese said for as good of a football player Vander Laan is, he’s an even better person.

“He’s a leader in our FCA program, he’s a leader in our community and he walks around campus representing everything that i want represented as the head football coach,” he said. “He’s a leader on our team; a person who commands respect and a person that our whole team loves and admires. That’s why you get that feeling as to this is a team trophy because he is the awesome person that gives recognition to everyone else as a humble person.

“He’s ultimately a guy that serves humanity and serves others,” he continued. “He learned that at a very early age. Every spring break since I’ve been at Ferris State, he’s given up his spring break to go on a mission trip to serve others. And then obviously he’s got loads of talent on the field, but I say that last because all of those other factors are most impotent to him and most important to us and our success.”

Vander Laan continued to demonstrate his humble nature in a press conference following the trophy announcement, giving plenty of credit to his university.

“It’s good recognition of the accomplishments we had but I think it’s also a great representation of how well our team’s done this year,” he said. “It’s going to show a lot about Ferris State University and what they’ve helped us come to at this point. It’s something our school has really been working toward, showing the success that we’ve had and trying to get some recognition back, so I think that’s going to be a good thing for them.”

Forever the competitor, Vander Laan already has his sights set on one last goal to accomplish when he comes back for his senior season next fall after the Bulldogs had their 2014 season end with a 46-33 loss to Ohio Dominican in the second round of the playoffs.

“It’s kind of hard to look forward to next year and I’m still a little sour about that last loss,” he said. “But I mean, the only thing we haven’t accomplished now is winning that national championship and that’s going to be our No. 1 goal. We won the GLIAC and we obviously want to do that again and want to make the playoffs.

“But we’re very, very mad that we lost that first playoff game and we want to go farther and that’s going to be our No. 1 mindset.”

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