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Moving on from the moment

Kyle Vantrease looks to grow despite return to a backup role

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No team wants to see their first-string quarterback helped off the field. And it can only get worse when their backup suffers the same fate.

In sports, however, injury can mean opportunity. That opportunity came for Buffalo Bulls (3-6, 1-4 Mid-American Conference) freshman quarterback Kyle Vantrease. Vantrease stepped into action just before halftime against the Northern Illinois Huskies and made his first start against the Miami (OH) RedHawks. He amassed 355 yards and two touchdowns in games that both ended in defeat for Buffalo.

But Vantrease’s opportunity came to an end when redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson made his return last week. Vantrease said he will use his experience to develop himself until his opportunity comes again.

“I can take that experience I had just from a game and a half and I can use that to my advantage,” Vantrease said. “Now when Tyree or Drew or one of the other guys mentor me, I have in-game experience to combine that with. Going forward it’s going to be helpful in preparation because I have experience and it's only going to help me further down the road, especially getting in there as a freshman.”

The original plan for Vantrease was to redshirt the season and preserve an extra year of eligibility, according to Vantrease and the coaching staff. But Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said that after Jackson’s injury, Vantrease started taking second-team reps in practice.

Junior Drew Anderson went down and forced Leipold’s hand, just three games later.

“I can’t remember any time in my coaching career that I’ve started a true freshman at quarterback,” Leipold said. “The hope was to redshirt him, but yet we were always preparing him. Then when Tyree went down we told [Vantrease] that if anything happened that we were going to go ahead and play him and he has handled it.”

Leipold pointed out that Vantrease graduated high school in December of last year and received an extra semester of preparation before this season. Vantrease arrived in Buffalo this past spring after an all-state career in his hometown of Stow, Ohio.

Ohio is the home to six of the 12 MAC schools and Vantrease was offered a scholarship from all of them. Ohio is also the home state of new Bulls’ quarterback coach Jim Zebrowski.

Vantrease didn’t know much about Zebrowski when he first came to Buffalo; but his dad, Wade Vantrease, said that once Vantrease found out that Zebrowski graduated high school just 20 minutes from Stow, they began to bond over it.

Their relationship grew stronger on the field. Wade praised Zebrowski as a coach and compared their relationship to the one Vantrease shared with his quarterback coach in high school.

“Zebrowski brings a tremendous energy to the quarterback room, the sidelines, the practices. He’s got a great demeanor and a relationship with the guys,” Wade said. “Kyle had that same relationship with his position coach at Stow. It was a great relationship, high energy… so when Kyle met Zebrowski that same kind of bond began immediately.”

Vantrease also came with a connection to Leipold. His grandfather is an alumnus of the University of Mount Union and Vantrease grew up attending Mount Union Purple Raiders games regularly.

The Purple Raiders are one of the best programs in Division III but in the eight seasons from 2007-2014 Leipold coached the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, Leipold and his team beat Mount Union in the Division III title game six times.

“Kyle’s grandfather was a Mount Union guy so we had season tickets,” Wade said. “We would watch Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union play all the time. We never knew Leipold was a part of that at the time, but because of that there was that understanding of what he had accomplished so Kyle bought into his philosophy immediately.”

Vantrease will have to buy-in to help him find success. He will draw upon Leipold and Zebrowski to help him grow over his next four years in Buffalo. He will apply everything to the practice field in his reserve role, including the time he spent in the game.

“There was a couple things that stood out the most, one of them being pocket presence,” Vantrease said. “In high school, I could escape the pocket and make plays on my feet or on the run, I could throw the ball. In college it’s so much different… the speed of the game is so much faster, I learned the basics of how things go, comfort levels, looking at coverage, looking at fronts and potential pressures and all that stuff. That game really helped me start to develop some skills that I can use in the future.”

Vantrease said he is at Buffalo to play and believes the coaches have the team’s best interest in mind. And although his playing time might be over for the year, Vantrease wants to do whatever will help the team win.

“They have a plan for me and in that plan, they have me as backup,” Vantrease said. “Things happen and I’m going do what I need to do for the team and that was play for a game and a half.”

Daniel Petruccelli is a co-senior sports editor and can be reached at daniel.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com


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