LARAMIE – Tyler Vander Waal finds himself in a similar position as he did at this time last year – competing to be the starting quarterback at the University of Wyoming.
Last season, Vander Waal beat out senior Nick Smith. He started UW’s first eight games as a redshirt freshman, but gave way to true freshman Sean Chambers as UW’s offense struggled.
Vander Waal came off the bench after Chambers broke his right fibula early in UW’s second-to-last game against Air Force and rallied UW to a victory. Vander Waal started in the Cowboys’ regular-season finale at New Mexico as they finished the season with four-straight victories.
UW offensive coordinator/associate head coach Brent Vigen said at the start of spring that with Chambers recovered from his injury, if UW played a game, Chambers would start. After the Cowboys’ seventh spring practice Tuesday, Vigen said that remains the same.
However, that doesn’t mean the quarterback competition is over, nor does it mean Vander Waal hasn’t shown improvement.
“It is not for a lack of Tyler making progress on his own game,” Vigen said. “For him, that’s where it has to start.
“The last couple of (practices), he’s completed the ball at a much higher rate. I know what got him into trouble a lot last year was reacting to pressure. All of the quarterbacks are in blue jerseys (not allowed to be hit), so that is hard to quantify right now, but I think he’s made some strides there. He’s making the right play, as opposed to the play you think you’re going to make.”
In 11 games and nine starts, Vander Waal completed 48.8 percent of his passes for 1,310 yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions. UW scored two or fewer touchdowns in seven of Vander Waal’s starts. To put all of the blame on him would be unfair, but his struggles certainly contributed.
Vigen said a big step Vander Waal had to make was not forgetting about last season, but learning from his experiences.
Vander Waal seems to have done that.
“I had to take a hard look at myself after last season and evaluate my play. I played pretty bad,” he said. “The first step was admitting it and knowing what I did wrong.
“I was young, inexperienced, the spotlight was a little too much, and I didn’t handle that well. I had the mindset that I was happy to be there. I should have had the mindset that I want to go out and win games for my team.
“I tried to overthink to correct myself in games, which messed up more throws. I got in my head a little too much.”
Vander Waal said he has a better grasp of UW’s offense now, is seeing defenses and coverages more quickly, and has worked on his footwork to be more accurate throwing the ball.
“I don’t want to say there are scars (from last season), but there has to be a value that is put on the ups and downs,” Vigen said. “I think he has taken that forward. Maybe the highs aren’t as high, but the lows aren’t as low. There is more of a calmness and a steady nature with him now.”
The competition between Vander Waal and Smith appeared to be healthy and respectful last season, and the same was true once Chambers became the starter. All signs lead to the same this spring.
The coaches will decide who the starter will be. In the meantime, Vander Waal plans to keep working and doing what he can to improve his own game and the entire offense.
“It doesn’t matter who is starting and who is the backup, we’re going to get better as a team,” Vander Waal said. “Sean and I support each other, and that’s how Nick and I were. It is more than just a quarterback room. We’re a brotherhood.”
True freshman quarterback Levi Williams could be wrapping up his senior year at Smithson Valley High in Canyon Lake, Texas, near San Antonio. However, Williams enrolled at UW in January and is going through spring drills.
Williams isn’t a threat to be the starter, but Vigen said the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Williams has impressed at times this spring.
“I’m pleased with how he learns,” Vigen said. “Physically, he has a chance to be something pretty impressive. Now it is applying every thing. He’s not getting a ton of reps, but when he’s been out there, he’s done some impressive things. We feel like he has a bright future.”
Four UW players who were seniors last season – Smith, Nico Evans, Adam Pilapil and Andrew Wingard – were honored Wednesday by The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame as members of the 2019 Hampshire Honor Society.
Evans graduated with a 3.36 cumulative grade-point average in communications. Pilapil also earned his degree in communications with a 3.33 cumulative GPA. Smith achieved a 3.92 undergraduate GPA in finance. Wingard earned a 3.22 GPA while graduating with a degree in management.
This year marks the first time UW has had four individuals earn the award in the same year. The previous high was three, which has been done six different times, the last coming in 2015.
UW’s four honorees were part of a group of 1,643 players from 424 schools in all divisions of college football to qualify for membership in the Hampshire Honor Society’s 13th year.
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.