Courtesy of Rob Bentley, Ferris State Assistant Athletic Director for Communications
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. -- Talented senior quarterback Jason Vander Laan (Frankfort, Ill./Chicago Christian) officially capped off one of the most historic collegiate football careers in history by being chosen Friday (Dec. 18) as the recipient of the 2015 Harlon Hill Trophy presented to NCAA Division II's Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive year.
Vander Laan received 217 total points and more than doubled the point total of 107 by running Ja'Quan Gardner of Humboldt State University, who finished second. Colorado State University-Pueblo senior running back Cameron McDondle finished third at 90.
Vander Laan, who concluded his career as the greatest rushing quarterback in NCAA history, was chosen as the recipient of this year's prestigious 30th annual honor based on a vote of the 168 sports information directors at the NCAA Division II level. The award is the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
The standout signal caller became only the fourth player ever in the history of Division II football to receive the coveted award twice and the first since current NFL standout Danny Woodhead in 2006 and 2007. It also marked the first time ever a player from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and the state of Michigan received the honor for a second time as past GLIAC winners Curt Anes (2002) and current Detroit Lions tailback Joique Bell (2009) each attained one of the most recognized awards in collegiate sports only once in their respective careers.
One of eight national finalists for the honor, Vander Laan was officially recognized as the winner again this season in a live online webcast presented by the National Harlon Hill Award Committee. It came on the heels of his first Harlon Hill recognition in 2014.
"I owe so much credit to my teammates and coaches for helping me with this award and I'm honored to receive it on their behalf," Vander Laan said. "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.
"I'm so appreciative of all the support I've received from my family, our university, the fans, alumni, coaches and my teammates and it has been an unbelievable time being a part of this program," he added.
As this year's recipient, Vander Laan will be formally honored at a luncheon on the University of North Alabama campus on Jan. 8, 2016, in Florence, Ala. The Harlon Hill Trophy is sponsored by the City of Florence, Ala., Opti-Net, Herff Jones and the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa.
"This is a truly memorable day for Ferris State University and Bulldog Football," said FSU head coach Tony Annese. "Jason has obviously had an amazing career and been the ultimate leader for our squad, but the way in which he has carried himself both on and off the field over the past four years has meant so much more.
"I firmly believe there is no better or more humble individual in all of college football," he added. "He's an amazing young man who will go down in history as one of the few to win this prestigious award multiple times. I know he greatly values the impact all of his teammates and coaches have had on his success and as a program, university and community, we couldn't be any prouder of his accomplishments."
Vander Laan was one of 38 initial candidates nominated by the sports information directors at their respective schools. The candidates were then voted on by the SID's in their respective Super Region with the winner determined in a nationwide vote of the Division II sports information directors.
The Harlon Hill Award is named for the former All-American at the University of North Alabama who later became a National Football League (NFL) Rookie of the Year and the first recipient of the Jim Thorpe Trophy as the NFL's Most Valuable Player with the Chicago Bears.
Vander Laan, who was a regional finalist for the award as a sophomore in 2013, became only the fifth FSU player ever to become a national finalist a year ago prior to receiving the award for the first time. Former quarterback Bill Love placed second in the voting process in 1995 with wideout Clarence Coleman fifth in 2001, linebacker Monty Brown fifth in 1992 and quarterback Dave Denbraber seventh overall in 1987. A total of 10 different Ferris State players have been candidates for the honor with Vander Laan becoming the school's first-ever three-time nominee on the ballot this season.
As a senior this fall, Vander Laan became the greatest rushing quarterback in NCAA college football history at any level, concluding his career with 5,953 total yards on the ground. He also became the first player in NCAA history to top 1,000 yards rushing and passing for four consecutive seasons. The four-year starting quarterback finished with more than 14,000 yards of total offense and ranks as the GLIAC's all-time leader in career yardage while setting numerous other school and league marks. His 81 career rushing TD's are the second-most by a QB in the history of college football and represent the most in NCAA Division II history.
The senior signal caller led the Bulldogs to a cumulative 37-9 overall mark, two Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles, two NCAA playoff appearances and back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons as the Ferris State quarterback. The two-time GLIAC Player of the Year and three-time All-American finished his senior campaign passing for 2,625 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1,542 yards and 24 more scores. Behind Vander Laan's play as the signal caller, Ferris State again ranked among the nation's top offensive units, ranking among the top 10 this fall in total offense, scoring offense and rushing.
Along with being the Harlon Hill Trophy recipient, he has also been chosen as the 2015 Division II Conference Commissioners Association National Offensive Player of the Year for the second time and named to the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) All-America First Team for the second-straight year since the season concluded. The NCAA Division II National Scholar-Athlete of the Year was tabbed as the 2015 CoSIDA Division II Football Academic All-American of the Year for his efforts in the classroom and was one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, which is also known as the Academic Heisman of college football, while becoming a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete. This week, he was tabbed as the nation's top small college quarterback outside of the Division I level by being chosen to the Associated Press Little All-America First Team for the second year in a row.
Vander Laan helped the Bulldogs finish with an 11-1 overall record for the second-straight year this past season. FSU captured the school's second GLIAC Championship in a row while capping off back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons. The Bulldogs won their last 25 consecutive regular-season games with Vander Laan at the offensive controls and posted the school's first NCAA Playoff victory in 19 years during the 2015 season. In his final two seasons, the Bulldogs won 22 of their 24 games overall.