VERMILLION, S.D. | Lost in the excitement of the University of South Dakota football team winning its first three games after making a change at quarterback is how the former starter has handled the change.
Instead of taking a negative approach, Josh Vander Maten accepted the decision with class and dignity. The former Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley prep standout, who started all 11 games at quarterback last season and the first four this fall, is now focused on learning the ins and outs of his new position of wide receiver.
“I didn’t expect it to happen but I just want to help our team win any way I can,” said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior. “I think I can help the receivers and help (starting QB) Kevin (Earl) has much as I can at quarterback.”
USD coaches decided in the fifth game to make a switch, inserting the 6-foot-6 strong-armed sophomore Earl as the starting quarterback. Earl led the Coyotes to come-from-behind victories in his first three starts and also put up some impressive numbers, making the decision seem like a stroke of genius.
Coach Joe Glenn, however, said it wasn’t an easy call to make.
“I never once thought we were losing because of Josh,” Glenn said. “It was just that we weren’t making plays downfield like we needed to make. It was more a change for the sake of change to see what would happen,”
Vander Maten, a versatile performer, put up good numbers last season, completing 151 of 268 passes for 1,662 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 495 yards and a team-high six rushing touchdowns.
South Dakota, though, finished with a 1-10 record and got off to a 1-3 start this season. Earl, who had seen limited action in both practice and games, then got the call.
“Kevin really hadn’t even done much in practice because the second team guy never gets that much work,” Glenn said. “We took a leap of faith that Josh would continue to help the team and Kevin would get time at quarterback. I think both moves have been good.”
In typical Vander Maten fashion, he has responded like a champion.
“I met with Coach (Wesley) Beschorner and he told me we were going to try Kevin at quarterback and that we think you can help us at wide receiver,” Vander Maten said. “I was excited to move to receiver. I’ve got a lot to learn, but Coach (Matthew) Middleton has helped me a lot.”
The transition, he said, was smooth. It’s the small technique things that have taken some time to learn.
Since moving to wide receiver, Vander Maten has 11 receptions for 118 yards and scored his first touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Earl in a 38-34 loss to Youngstown State last Saturday. He passed for 394 yards and two touchdowns and has rushed for 281 yards and three scores.
First and foremost, he harbors no ill will toward Earl, who has thrown for 1,259 yards and seven touchdowns in five games as a starter.
“I’m trying to take my experience and help out any way I can,” Vander Maten said. “I want to make him the best quarterback he can be. I can do that by being the best receiver I can be and try to be out there and be a good friend to him.”
As an added threat, Vander Maten can also line up in the wildcat formation, which he did on several plays against Youngstown State.
“It’s a good thing to have in our offense,” Vander Maten said. “Being a wildcat running threat, I can also throw. It’s not a true wildcat, just something to keep the defense off guard.”
South Dakota is 4-5 overall and 4-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference heading into a non-conference game Saturday at home against 10th-ranked Montana.
And, although he’d probably prefer to be playing quarterback, Vander Maten is more than willing to turn the page to the next chapter.
“I came to USD as a quarterback but God has a different plan for me,” said the son of Wayne and Jan Vander Maten of Boyden, Iowa. “I’m going to go with it and do what I can to help this team.”