FSU QB Jason Vander Laan wins second-straight Harlon Hill Trophy

HARLON HILL: Ferris State senior quarterback Jason Vander Laan (15) stiff arms a defender this season. (Pioneer file photo).

HARLON HILL: Ferris State senior quarterback Jason Vander Laan (15) stiff arms a defender this season. (Pioneer file photo).

BIG RAPIDS — Ferris State University senior quarterback Jason Vander Laan and the rest of the football team might have been a little surprised when he became the first Bulldog to win the Harlon Hill Trophy last season.

There was no surprise when he won it again on Friday as the top player in NCAA Division II.

“I was more confident this year than last year that he was going to win, because he had such an incredible year again,” said FSU head coach Tony Annese, who was one of several coaches, players and fans at Buffalo Wild Wings in Big Rapids watching the online announcement. “His statistics were mind-boggling.”

Vander Laan is the fourth player to win the award at least twice and did so with the fourth-highest vote total. He finished with 217 points, including 51 first-place votes. Humboldt State University sophomore running back Ja’Quan Gardner finished second with 107 points.

The award is determined by a vote of 168 Division II sports information directors.

“I owe so much credit to my teammates and coaches for helping me win this award, and I’m honored to receive it on their behalf,” said Vander Laan, who was watching the announcement with friends and family at his home in Frankfort, Illinois. “When you look at the names of people who have won this in the past, it’s amazing to be on that list, and to be a two-time winner is just unreal.”

This season, Vander Laan was sixth in the nation with 347.3 yards per game of total offense. He also was ninth in rushing at 128.5 yards per game. The four-year starter rushed for 24 scores and passed for 27 touchdowns to rank second in points responsible for at 25.5 per game.

“Jason is probably one of the most humble guys I have ever met in my entire career,” said FSU junior center and Big Rapids High School graduate Jake Daugherty. “When you’re blocking for a guy like that who always has your back and always has positive things to say, it’s very enjoyable. For him to win this, I’m not surprised. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met. He sets the example for the rest of the guys.”

Vander Laan finishes his career as the NCAA all-time leader for rushing yards (5,953) and rushing touchdowns (81) by a quarterback. He is the school all-time leader in passing touchdowns (85) and is in the top three in school history in passing yards (8,240) yards.

He also is the first player in NCAA history to top 1,000 yards rushing and passing for four consecutive seasons.

“It’s a culmination of a great career,” Annese said. “He’s a great person and a great football player. He’s had a huge impact on this institution. We are all so very proud of him and what he stood for, not only as a football player, but also as a person. He wanted to give to others and impact our community in a positive way. I’m going to miss him and I’m looking forward to him having a chance at being in the NFL.

Vander Laan has signed an agent and is set to begin training in Atlanta in January with hopes of playing professional football, either at quarterback or tight end.

“People look at his physical attributes — he’s big, strong and fast — but the mental attributes, I think, exceed anything he has physically,” Annese said. “If there’s a way that he could play in the NFL, Jason Vander Laan is going to figure that out.”

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Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

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