VERMILLION, S.D. | Chris Streveler had nothing against the University of Minnesota. He just wanted to play quarterback.
South Dakota is thanking its lucky stars that he did.
Disenchanted with the fact that he had split time between quarterback and receiver during his redshirt sophomore season at Minnesota, Streveler approached incoming head coach Tracy Claeys to inquire about where he would fit in.
“He told me to stick around through spring ball and play receiver and see how it works out,” Streveler said. “It just so happened that I had one more semester to graduate so it worked out perfectly. So I stuck it out through spring ball and I was playing receiver and it didn’t seem like I was going to get a big opportunity to be a part of the offense or be on special teams.
“So I talked to the coaches and we decided it would be better if I found a new place. When I was getting into the process of transferring I was looking at schools for both receiver and quarterback because I was really starting to take to receiver and liking it a lot, but I knew that quarterback was my first love, so to speak.”
He grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois -- a northwest Chicago suburb -- guiding Marian Central Catholic High School to consecutive 11-1 records and the state quarterfinals in both his junior and senior seasons.
By then, it was clear that Streveler was a dual-threat QB. He passed for 2,662 yards and 26 touchdowns and ran for 1,276 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.
However, despite rushing for 161 yards and a touchdown (the third-highest total by a quarterback in school history) in a 24-7 win over San Jose State in 2014, it turned out to be his only start at quarterback at Minnesota.
South Dakota was one of the schools looking at the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Streveler at quarterback.
“It ended up being the only visit I took,” Streveler said. “When I got on campus the idea of being able to be a quarterback again, the opportunity to be a leader on a team and be a part of team that could turn a program around was really something I couldn’t pass up.
“After sitting down with Coach (Bob) Nielson and Coach (Ted) Schlafke I really felt like I could build a great relationship with both of them. It obviously worked out real well and I couldn’t be happier about that.”
Streveler’s first season coincided with Nielson’s first as head coach at USD. Because he had already earned a degree (kinesiology) from Minnesota, he could transfer to any other Division I school without penalty.
He accounted for 31 of the team’s 41 touchdowns during a 4-7 campaign, earning Missouri Valley Football Conference first team and Newcomer of the Year honors.
That, though, was a only harbinger of things to come.
Streveler put up mind-boggling numbers this season, completing the eighth-most prolific season in FCS history in terms of total offense. He passed for a MVFC and USD record 4,134 yards and led the Coyotes with 720 rushing for a total of 4,854 yards.
He accounted for an astounding 43 touchdowns (32 passing, 11 rushing), which ranked him second nationally in points responsible for. Named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team FCS All-American, Streveler is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award given annually to the top offensive player in FCS football.
Streveler, along with Sam Houston State senior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe and UC Davis junior wide receiver Keelan Doss, are invited to attend the FCS awards banquet Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, where the winner will be announced.
South Dakota won its first six games, rising to No. 4 in the national rankings. The Coyotes finished the regular season with a 7-4 record and received their first berth in the FCS playoffs ever, winning a first-round game at Nicholls before falling to Sam Houston State in the second round.
“In the two short years I was there you could really feel the culture changing,” Streveler said. “We felt we were so close in so many of those games (last season) and I think that really pushed us this offseason to work hard and kind of get over that hump. We were able to finally win some of those games this season that were close. It was a special year and a fun team to be a part of.”
Streveler did indeed develop a close relationship with Nielson, who recognizes how much of a game-changer his quarterback was for the program.
“His talents on the field and the numbers he put up have been outstanding, but I think what’s been more important is the leadership and the kind of competitive edge he brought to our program,” Nielson said. “I think that helped this team take a major step forward this year. He’s a guy that plays with great compassion for the game and makes everybody around him better.
“He’s a guy that represents the kind of young man we want in our program, a guy that worked unbelievably hard. He was first on and last off the practice field most days, a guy that’s always giving his all in the weight room and doing the things you want in terms of representing your program off the field. From a standpoint of representing USD football, we’ve got a lot of great young men right now, but Chris certainly represented our program in stellar fashion. To come in and establish himself the way he did in only two years is pretty unique.”
Coming into this season, Streveler felt that most teams viewed him as a runner first.
“To be able to change some of those perceptions and rely on my arm a little more and kind of go back to my legs if things broke down, it was kind of nice to have those things in my back pocket,” Streveler said. “Throughout the games this season when we were playing teams we played last year and I had watched the films, I felt like my understanding of the game was so much greater. The way I was seeing things and understanding how defenses were trying to play us was so much better this season.”
Close friend Brandt Van Roekel, a senior wide receiver from Boyden-Hull High School, seemed to click with Streveler from the start.
“He’s one of those players who could completely change the team with his play on the field but also off the field, all the leadership things he does is what made him super special,” Van Roekel said. “The summer he came here we were throwing to each other every single day so that by the time the season came around I knew what to expect. That really helped our connection from the start.”
It’s only fitting that Van Roekel and fellow team captains Stetson Dagel and John Wessel are making the trip to Texas for the Payton Award ceremony.
“I am lucky to be a part of this program,” Streveler said. “Just to think about how much my life has changed in the last two years with football and all the relationships I’ve been able to make and just be a part of this program.
“A couple years ago I was thinking about riding out my time at Minnesota, being a special teams player and getting my degree and being happy. The decision to come to South Dakota was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve loved my time there and it couldn’t have gone any better.”