LARAMIE – For the doubters, Tyler Vander Waal provided the answer.
He was emphatic after he gave way as the Cowboy’s starting quarterback in the second half of the Utah State game back on Oct. 20 that he remained committed to Wyoming and had no desire to transfer.
The doubts, however, lingered.
He was ecstatic when Chambers, in his debut, led the Cowboys to a win at Colorado State, putting a man hug of joy on Chambers while the on-field celebration took place, wearing a smile that spread from ear to ear.
The skeptics, however, ignored it.
But last Saturday afternoon, on a bone-chilling, snow adorned afternoon at War Memorial Stadium, Vander Waal made it very clear that he hadn’t checked out on the Cowboys.
Called on to take the snaps from center after Chambers broke a bone in his leg on the seventh play of the game, Vander Waal guided the Cowboys to dramatic come-from-behind, 35-27, victory over Air Force. The Cowboys scored three touchdowns in the final five minutes.
And he will be back on the field at the start of Saturday’s game at New Mexico, the Cowboys needing a victory to claim that sixth win, which will make them bowl eligible.
“To me,” he said, “it’s bigger than football. It’s about relationships that are in the locker room, that are outside the field.
“Sean and I have a really good relationship. We’re tight. We look at it as, `It’s not for me; it’s for we,’ on this football team. “
Oh, Vander Waal admits the ego took a hit. He is a competitor and to fall short of meeting expectations is a burr under the saddle. But to get better means honest self-evaluation and Vander Waal knew if he wanted to blame someone for losing that starting job he had to look in the mirror.
“I obviously wanted to play,” he said. “I obviously wanted to start, but I knew I wasn’t getting the job down. They had to do something. It wasn’t about me; it was about the football team. We had to do what was best for the football team.
“That’s what got me through it. I totally understood what they didn’t. I didn’t care if I was playing as long as we were winning games. That’s what mattered to me.”
What he did after being replaced in the lineup was to work to be better.
And when coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, he listened, which was evident by how he responded to the opportunity against an Air Force team that can be physical and, like the Cowboys, knew a loss last Saturday would eliminate bowl hopes.
“It is testimony that he didn’t quit on the team in those three, three and a half weeks,” Vigen said of Vander Waal’s response to the opportunity against Air Force. “He was prepared to go into that game (against Air Force). The way he performed shows that.”
Both Vigen and head coach Craig Bohl had given him the challenge to be ready at all times because something could happen for him to be in the game.
“It’s funny because coach Bohl and I sat down (last) Wednesday night and he said, `Be ready to go because your number could be called at any time,” said Vander Waal. “When Sean was starting, Coach Vigen pulled me aside and said, `You’re only one play away. You have to prepare like you are the starter.’ So I had that mindset, even when I was the back up.”
After completing only 102 of 223 passes for 1,044 yards in his seven starts, he completed 14 of 26 passes, two for touchdowns, covering a Cowboys’ season best 225 yards . He also ran for two touchdowns.
And Vander Waal wasted no time making his presence felt. On the first snap he took from center, Vander Waal hit Raghib Ismail, Jr., with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
“Any time you change quarterbacks, there’s a certain amount of anxiety,” admitted Bohl. “There’s a different type of tempo, and how they lead. … There was a reason why we made the change. We needed to spark the offense. …
“When he walked out there and threw that strike for a touchdown, the way he drilled the ball, it told me, `I’m here to play. I’m not going out to just try and manage the game.’ He took another step forward, and he competed. HR made plays he hadn’t made.”
But there was even more that caught Bohl’s attention. There was that intangible.
“It was encouraging to see that in the course of all the ups and downs, how Tyler been supportive of Sean, and (on Saturday) Sean was support of Tyler. It embodied what’s going on in that locker room. You’ve got two quarterbacks vying for the starting spot and you don’t have controversy. That allows a team to continue to win.”
And Vander Waal gets a chance to reinforce that impression on Saturday in Albuquerque.