VERMILLION, S.D. | Brandt Van Roekel knows all about coming back from injuries, so when he took a vicious blow to his side while catching a touchdown pass in the season opener against Drake, the South Dakota senior wide receiver knew something wasn’t right.
“I kind of took a helmet (to the side) and had a kidney laceration so it didn’t feel real good,” said the Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley product. “But now it’s all healed up and ready to go, I just put some padding on it and called it good.”
The injury – which when even mentioned sounds quite painful – kept Van Roekel out of the next two games against Bowling Green and North Dakota, but the co-captain made a triumphant return last week at Western Illinois.
Van Roekel caught six passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, helping the Coyotes improve to 4-0 for the first time since the 2006 season. One of those was a 32-yard touchdown from Chris Streveler.
Ironically, Van Roekel had his best game in a Coyote uniform against Western Illinois last season, amassing 137 yards in just four catches. That came after missing four games because of an arm injury.
“It just sucks having to watch my brothers out there playing,” Van Roekel said. “I just had to sit on the sideline and not do anything about it so it's good to be able to come back and help.”
In order to get the go-ahead to return, Van Roekel had to undergo a couple of CAT scans to make sure his kidney had healed properly.
His touchdown pass put the Coyotes ahead 17-6 and they went on to hold off Western Illinois 38-33. As a result, USD jumped from 10th to No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision national poll heading into Saturday’s showdown with No. 3 Youngstown State.
“He’s not just a talented player but a leader for us offensively,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “So to have him back in the lineup and to be able to use him as another weapon was very valuable on Saturday. Now hopefully we can keep him healthy and having those kinds of games the rest of the year.”
The coaches, Van Roekel said, put the players in position to succeed.
“We really have the easy part, they have all the hard stuff done before the game starts,” Van Roekel said. “So all we have to do is come out there and execute. We did that the first half and looked pretty good.
“I was ultra-excited to be able to play again. All of this hard work over the last couple of years and it’s my senior year so I was excited to have the opportunity to go back out there and play.”
Especially since his team has bolted into the national spotlight in such a short time.
“This (Youngstown) is going to be a great challenge for us and an opportunity for us to go out and play as well as we’re capable of playing because we haven’t done it thus far despite our record,” Van Roekel said. “It will be a challenge playing against a great team at home on homecoming.”