One play away
LARAMIE – Tyler Vander Waal turns 21 today.
His schedule is already pre-planned.
There will be meetings, practice and some video work. Preparation
for Texas State takes precedence. He knows that.
Plus, he already had his celebration.
Saturday night, moments after the final tick evaporated from the game clock and the Cowboys had stunned the Missouri Tigers, 37-31, Vander Waal was swept up by the raucous crowd that stormed the field at War Memorial Stadium.
“That was insane,” Vander Waal laughed. “That was one of the
craziest moments I have ever been a part of. The fans said, ‘you should crowd surf.’
I said, ‘OK, lift me up.’ It was a heat-of-the-moment deal. It was a
once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was definitely fun.”
Vander Waal was all smiles Monday afternoon in Laramie. That’s
nothing new. He doesn’t have the look of a guy who lost his starting job to a
true freshman last season. His attitude doesn’t reflect his current situation,
Entering the season, Sean Chambers was once again named the starter, relegating Vander Waal to the bench.
In this day of college football -- one where free agency has
never been more of a reality -- players, especially quarterbacks, are on the
move more than ever.
Kelly Bryant lost his job to a freshman at Clemson last season. He packed up and left. Saturday night, he was starting under center for Mizzou.
Vander Waal said that was never an option for him.
Coming out of Christian Brothers High School in Elk Grove,
Calif., the sophomore said he wasn’t heavily recruited. Ball State, Boise
State, California, Colorado, Colorado State, Nevada, San Jose State, Utah and
Washington State all showed interest, but in the end, Vander Waal said he received
just four offers.
He chose Wyoming.
That commitment means something to him.
“I just think I was given this opportunity and I am here for
a reason,” Vander Waal said. “I felt Wyoming was the place to be. I feel like I
have an obligation to be here. They took a chance on me. This is my home.
“To leave, I think is selfish. It’s not who I am or ever am
going to be. I’ve always been told football is a team game. I try to live by
That philosophy – and reality – was on full display Saturday
Vander Waal didn’t take a snap. He didn’t step foot on Jonah
Field. But that didn’t stop him from being the Cowboys main cheerleader on the
sideline. Vander Waal was seen throughout the game pumping his teammates up,
chatting up Chambers and encouraging the fans to get behind the team.
In fact, he was so excited after Mizzou’s final fourth-down attempt landed harmlessly In the end zone, he started shredding some gear.
“I just went crazy,” he said with a smile. “I threw my Gatorade
towel into the stands. I tossed my game towel into the crowd, too. I probably
would’ve thrown my helmet, too, if the equipment guy didn’t take it from me.”
His actions didn’t go unnoticed.
Center Keegan Cryder acknowledged the possibility that the back-up quarterback who lost his starting role could become a locker-room issue. He could be disgruntled and unattached to the team.
That, he said, has not been the case with Vander Waal.
“Kudos to him for having the character and being there for
the team,” Cryder said of Vander Waal. “It’s not about him or us, it’s about
the team. If we all keep the team-first attitude like Tyler, we are going to be
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl always seems to throw in a statement about him, too. If someone in the media asks about Chambers, Bohl makes sure to let the world know that there is a more-than-capable player waiting in the wings.
Don’t let the rah-rah stuff fool you, though. Vander Waal is
still human. It hurts not being out there. If he could do it all over, he said
he would change some things, mainly his approach to the position.
“I was so uptight about everything,” he admitted. “I’d make
one mistake and it was like the world is going to end. It was a downhill effect
from there. My attitude now is, screw it, have fun. Go play ball.”
Back to the being-a-human part. How does he deal with
sitting behind Chambers?
“It’s def hard, but we always talk about we before me,”
Vander Waal said. “Sean cheered me on last year and I’m going to be his biggest
supporter this year. It definitely sucks not being out there. Being a
competitor, I want to be on the field. I know my role on this team is being the
backup right now, but I know I’m only one play away.”
That thinking comes from experience.
Vander Waal was benched before Wyoming traveled to CSU last October.
Chambers got the start and ran wild over the Cowboys’ Border War rivals to the
south. The following week, Chambers once again made the defense look silly, eclipsing
the 100-yard rushing mark in a victory over San Jose State.
Then came the Air Force game.
With the Cowboys trailing early, Chambers tried to score
from near the goal line. He went down in pain. He was grabbing his right leg.
Chambers was lost for the season that afternoon in Laramie.
Enter Vander Waal.
All he did in relief of Chambers was complete 14-of-26
passes for 225 yards and a pair of crucial touchdown strikes. In the sub-zero
temperatures and with ice blanketing the field, Vander Waal helped dig the
Pokes out of what seemed to be an insurmountable 27-14 hole. heading into the
“That’s one of those moments I’ll never forget,” he said. “It
was a huge confidence booster. I went in and got the job done with the guys
counting on me. I feel prepared and ready today like I did then.”
Wyoming knocked off the Falcons 35-27 and finished the season
on a four-game winning streak to reach bowl eligibility.
Vander Waal doesn’t know if he will see any time under
center this season. He knows full well that Chambers is a freshman still after playing
in just parts of four games last season. He could be in for a career back-up
That posed a question. One that might be a tad insane.
Would Vander Waal ever consider a position change?
“I think a lot of guys are doing that,” he laughed, referring to Tate Martell of Miami, who lost the quarterback competition and has transitioned to wide receiver for the Hurricanes. “If that opportunity arises, I’d love to get on the field in any way possible – receiver, tight end – I’d take it and run with it.”
How fast would he run though?
“That could be better,” he joked about his speed. “It could
be worse, too.”
Chances are that Vander Waal won’t experience a “normal” 21st
birthday today. There won’t be kegs, loud music and a day to sleep it off. He
knows at any second he could be summoned to the field as the Cowboys travel to
San Marcos, Texas, this Saturday to face the Bobcats.
Tiffani Vander Waal turned 50 on Saturday. His mom was there for the crowd-surfing celebration after the big win. Even if her son doesn’t get to do anything special for his own big day, he said he was happy to give her that gift.
“Having that support behind you is huge,” he said of his
family. “I don’t take that for granted. A lot of players don’t have the support
system I do. Family is forever. I’m lucky to have them.”