Big Rapids, Mich. - A trio of Ferris State University student-athletes, including a pair from the Bulldog football team and a women's cross country standout, have been recognized as 2013 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Meijer Commissioner's Award recipients for the fall campaign.
The three Bulldog student-athletes recognized include sophomore quarterback Jason Vander Laan (Frankfort, Ill./Chicago Christian) and sophomore defensive end Justin Zimmer (Greenville, Mich.) from the Ferris State football squad along with women's cross country's Samantha Johnson (Troy). All three previously earned either All-America or Academic All-America accolades based on their performances from the fall season.
The awards, sponsored by Meijer, Incorporated, are presented after the Fall, Winter, and Spring athletic seasons to six female and six male student-athletes from around the league that excel both in the classroom and on the fields of play. All grade point averages are based on a 4.0 scale.
The six female student-athletes to receive the Fall 2013 Meijer Commissioner's Awards are: FSU's Johnson; Jessica Janecke, Courtney Brewis and Tayler Ward of Grand Valley State; Darina Berkova of Northwood, and Danielle Taflinger of Findlay.
The six male student-athletes to receive the Fall 2013 Meijer Commissioner's Awards are: the Bulldogs' Vander Laan and Zimmer; Spencer Pageau and Alan Peterson of Grand Valley State; Mark Miller of Ohio Dominican; and Chet Privett of Wayne State.
"It is with great pleasure that I offer congratulations on behalf of the GLIAC to our 12 award winners," stated GLIAC Commissioner Dell Robinson. "The accomplishments of the 12 student-athletes is a shining example of the future leaders and individuals who serve as change agents on our campuses. I would like thank Meijer for their continued support that allows the GLIAC to honor our top student-athletes."
Johnson was chosen as 2013 United States Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Midwest Region "Runner of the Year" and 2013 GLIAC Cross Country "Athlete of the Year." She has been an all-conference pick multiple times and a multiple-time GLIAC All-Academic Team selection in her career. This season, Johnson won three races including GLIAC and NCAA Midwest Regional titles while also winning the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Invitational. She qualified individually for the NCAA Division II Championships where she placed fifth in the country. The senior has helped Ferris State to be ranked as one of the region's top 10 squads throughout her collegiate career and ranked nationally multiple times. The four-year letterwinner is regarded as one of the nation's top distance and country performers.
Meanwhile, Vander Laan was a 2013 Harlon Hill Division II Player of the Year finalist and broke the NCAA Division II All-Time single season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,607 yards. He also led the Bulldogs to eight conference wins in 2013 for the first time since 1996 while also being ranked in the region's top 10 in the final polls. Vander Laan is both a two-time All-GLIAC and GLIAC All-Academic Team honoree. He earned honorable mention All-America honors for his performance on the field this past fall and also received Division II Player of the Week honors multiple times in 2013.
Finally, Zimmer helped lead Ferris State to an 8-3 overall record and an 8-2 record in league play as a starting defensive end. A 2013 Capital One Academic All-District IV First Team pick, he led the team on and off the field, earning NCAA Division II National Player of the Week recognition in week three. He help lead the conference in rushing defense, while starting all 11 games in 2013. A GLIAC All-Academic Excellence honoree, Zimmer also received 2013 Captial One Academic All-America Second Team efforts for his accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. He ranked among the league leaders with both 7.5 sacks (-33 yards) and 10.5 tackles for loss (-41 yards).
Johnson was one of three individuals on the women's side to earn GLIAC Commissioner's Award honors in cross country while Ferris State was the lone school to place two football players on the award list in the GLIAC.
Overall, Ferris State was one of only two schools, along with Grand Valley State, to have two or more individuals claim GLIAC Commissioner's Award laurels this fall on the 12-member list.