Kyle Vantrease plays both quarterback and punter
Kyle Vantrease never thought the 2019 UB football season would begin like this.
Nobody thought it would begin like this.
During the third quarter of the Bulls’ week-two game against Penn State, starting punter Evan Finegan after breaking his leg.
Vantrease, the backup punter, was standing on the sidelines.
He was quickly called into action.
He was terrified.
“It was kind of like, ‘Oh my God, I did not warm up for this. Don’t get hurt. Get the ball past the line of scrimmage,’” Vantrease said.
His first punt traveled only 17 yards and “was kind of close to not being that,” he said. “At least I got the ball off.”
Over the next few weeks, Vantrease joined a select group of Division-I football players to start at punter and quarterback in the same season. Since Sept. 28, the redshirt sophomore has attempted 16 punts and 99 passes — a rare combination at this level. Vantrease was recruited to Buffalo as a quarterback and thought that would be the only position he would play. He’s realized he has a lot more in him.
“Coming in, I didn’t think I was ever going to punt,” he said. “That was the last position I was going to be put on the field for.”
Vantrease grew up playing quarterback. When he was two or three years old, he could pick up a Nerf football and throw a perfect spiral to the delight of family and friends.
“It was like, ‘He’s going to be the quarterback,’” Vantrease recalls his father saying.
Vantrease, the son of a high school football coach and a competitive swimmer, grew up in Stow, OH, where he played baseball and basketball, threw shot and discus, ran track and swam.
But once he got to middle school, Vantrease had to decide which sport he wanted to focus on. So he imagined his life without each of them.
“Football is the one I would go crazy if I didn’t have,” he said.
In high school, Vantrease was named first-team All-State. He finished his career with 50 passing touchdowns and 24 rushing touchdowns. He was dominant on both offense and special teams as a senior — he punted the ball 21 times and was 18-of-19 on extra point attempts.
Vantrease received offers from seven Mid-American Conference schools, including Akron, which is just 15 minutes from his hometown. Vantrease credits the UB coaching staff for making his decision an easy one.
“You could ask him to play defensive end, and he may look at you funny, but he’s going to try to do it,” said Special Teams Coordinator Taiwo Onatolu. “He’s going to study up on it and do it as hard as he can. That’s the type of guy he is.”
Vantrease has made it easy for coaches. He’s faced obstacles at every step of his collegiate experience, but has handled it all like a pro, they said. Coming into college, he was buried on the depth chart behind quarterbacks Tyree Jackson and Drew Anderson.
“He took it great,” said Quarterbacks Coach Jim Zebrowski.
After burning his redshirt as a freshman in relief of an injured Jackson, Vantrease was asked to back up punter Kyle DeWeen.
Entering the 2019 season, Vantrease was engaged in a competition for the starting quarterback job with junior Dominic Johnson and redshirt freshman Matt Myers.
Myers won the competition, and started the first five games of the season.
“Everyone is competitive, and obviously you want to be the guy, at any position,” Zebrowski said. “But I think he understood, thought about what he needs to be working on and understood what he needed to be ready for.”
Vantrease entered the 2019 season as the backup quarterback and punter, but by week six, he was starting at both positions. Finegan broke his right tibia and fibula and Myers suffered a season-ending upper-body injury in UB’s MAC opener.
Vantrease has been erratic at both positions. He has completed 61.6% of his passes for 679 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. His coaches’ fear is that the offense isn’t as consistent as they would like.
“We’re a little sporadic right now,” Zebrowski said. “One game, we throw for a lot of completions but not for a lot of yards. The next game, we throw for a lot of yards but not a lot of completions.”
Zebrowski explained that Vantrease is in his first season as a starter and is throwing to inexperienced receivers (this offseason, the Bulls lost Anthony Johnson, K.J. Osborn, Charlie Jones and Tyler Mabry to graduation or transfer).
Vantrease is undaunted and is convinced he will earn the MAC Championship with the Bulls this season.
“A couple things have to fall into place, but nothing is off the table right now.”
Justin Weiss is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.