Ferris State Retires Jason Vander Laan’s No. 15 Jersey

BIG RAPIDS – Ferris State University has been playing football for 113 years. Up until last Saturday, the program had never retired a player’s jersey.

That all changed with Jason Vander Laan, the quarterback who led the charge from 2012 to 2015 as Ferris State began to transform into the perennial power it is today.

Vander Laan put together one of the most impressive careers in college football history during his time at Ferris State. But without a good word from a rival high school coach, there’s a good chance Vander Laan would have never found his way to Ferris State.

“Ferris State was coming down to recruit somebody else in my conference,” Vander Laan said. “While they were out there in Illinois they asked their head coach and Athletic Director ‘is there anybody else in our conference that we should check out before we head back to Michigan?’ They said, check out that Vander Laan guy at Chicago Christian.”

Growing up in Frankfort, Illinois, Vander Laan had never heard of Ferris State until the coaches showed up at his high school, pulling him aside to tell him that, quite frankly, they had never heard of him either.

“They took me out of class and they said ‘hey we know nothing about you,'” Vander Laan recalled. “‘We don’t know if you’re good at football or not. Just give us your DVD of your highlights at that point. Hudl wasn’t around unfortunately. It was just getting started. They took my DVD and went back up to Ferris and called me a week or two later to bring me up for a tryout.”

It’s a good thing Ferris State and Vander Laan found each other. He went on to win two Harlon Hill trophies for the Bulldogs and finished his career with more career rushing yards than any quarterback in college football history.

Vander Laan was the face of Tony Annese’s early teams that laid the foundation for Ferris State to become the national power it is today.

“It was one of those situations where we probably weren’t all that good but Jason Vander Laan was really good,” Annese said.

Last Saturday, Ferris State held a ceremony before the game to retire his No. 15 jersey.

“[Them] saying hey we want to go out of our way and be the first guy to retire your number in the 100 and something year history of the school,” Vander Laan said. “That really just kind of — it hits me in a different way. It makes you get a little emotional just how cool and how honoring this is to be the person that gets that award.”