Big Rapids, Mich. - Former Ferris State University standout and two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner Jason Vander Laan will have an opportunity to continue his National Football League (NFL) career as he was signed on Monday (May 21) by the Carolina Panthers.
Vander Laan was one of two newcomers added to the Panthers' current 91-man roster this offseason. It will mark the third NFL franchise he's been part of in his pro football career.
Last season, Vander Laan made his NFL Regular-Season debut for the Indianapolis Colts and played in four contests, primarily on special teams after being signed originally to the Colts' practice squad at tight end in early November.
The former Bulldog standout is one of three FSU alums in the past two seasons to appear in an NFL regular-season game. Two seasons ago, former standout receiver and Bulldog teammate Jake Lampman became the first FSU player in 13 years to play on football's biggest stage in regular-season action while both Vander Laan and lienbacker Brady Sheldon (Oakland Raiders) were called up to the active roster late last fall.
Vander Laan, 6-4, 244 pounds, participated in the New York Jets' 2017 offseason program and training camp before being waived during final cuts on September 3 of last year. As a rookie in 2016, he also spent time on the Jets practice squad. Vander Laan originally signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent on May 6, 2016.
As a collegiate quarterback, Vander Laan officially capped off one of the most historic collegiate football careers in history by being chosen as the recipient of the 2015 Harlon Hill Trophy presented to NCAA Division II's Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive year.
The standout signal caller became only the fourth player ever in the history of Division II football to receive the coveted Harlon Hill 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 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.
As a senior in 2015, 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 veteran 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 in total offense, scoring offense and rushing.
Along with being the Harlon Hill Trophy recipient, he was also 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. The two-time NCAA Division II National Scholar-Athlete of the Year was tabbed as the 2015 CoSIDA Division II 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. Additionally, 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 as a senior. 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.
During his collegiate career, FSU posted the GLIAC's best league record (34-6) and the squad also owned the top overall four-year record of all 21 collegiate programs in Michigan (37-9).
Vander Laan is currently among seven former Ferris State standouts active with NFL organizations. Former defensive tackle Justin Zimmer was signed by the Atlanta Falcons in April while Sheldon remains with the Oakland Raiders and Lampman is currently in the Tampa Bay Buccanneers' organization. Standout defensive end Zach Sieler became the school's first NFL draft choice this year when he was selected by the Baltimore Ravens while FSU's Tavierre Thomas and Chris Okoye signed free agent deals following the draft with the Arizona Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.