Vaadeland taking advantage at NDSU
FARGO — Kevin Vaadeland walked off the first North Dakota State spring football practice on Saturday afternoon without the aid of a cane or any noticeable hint of arthritis. It’s sort of been the standing joke with his teammates — he’s the oldest player on the team and everybody involved has enjoyed the banter.
Quarterback Carson Wentz said he calls Vaadeland the team’s 40-year-old tight end. When Vaadeland tweeted in January that he was using a medical hardship and returning for his sixth year of school to play football, he could have used the hashtag #grandpavaadeland.
“I’m going to embrace it,” he said.
Know this: the Bison offense is embracing having him back. It wasn’t a surprise because the Bison coaches knew it was a possibility. Vaadeland said he was 99 percent sure all along he was going to return.
“A lot of it had to do with the fact I had to sit out my first two years,” he said. “I wanted to get that extra year plus the tight end is a position that isn’t stacked with experienced players so I wanted to stay and help out in that area, too.”
Give several other players and coaches an assist in helping the keep-Kevin-here process along. There are seven tight ends on the Bison spring football roster but only Vaadeland has extensive experience. It gives a quarterback like Wentz a reliable veteran while the younger players continue to learn the system.
“I was hounding him a little bit,” Wentz said. “But ultimately I think he was excited to come back. He won three in a row and now he gets a chance at a fourth. Why not take that opportunity?”
Vaadeland was third on the team in receptions with 20 and first in catches-to-touchdown ratio last season. Eight of the 20 went for six points. Offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said Vaadeland’s presence gives the offense a vertical threat from the tight end spot and at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he’s also developed his blocking to the point where he’s a viable dual threat.
Polasek, who left NDSU to become an assistant at Northern Illinois last year before returning in January, said he’s seen a big improvement in Vaadeland’s toughness.
“Maybe that wasn’t there two years ago,” Polasek said.
Said Vaadeland: “I think he’s toughened up everybody he’s been around. Just the way he coaches; it’s crazy what he does.”
The fact Polasek and fullback and tight ends coach Tyler Roehl returned to NDSU to be a part of Chris Klieman’s new coaching staff was also a factor in accepting the medical hardship, Vaadeland said. They’re familiar faces who know the system that Vaadeland has been a part of since he came to NDSU from Park Rapids Area High School (Minn.) in 2009.
He missed the 2009 and 2010 seasons with knee injuries, although he probably would have redshirted his first year anyway. The ailments have been a thing of the past since he played in 13 games in the 2011 season.
“It’s outstanding for the offense having him,” Polasek said. “I think he wanted to play — he wants to be out there. Just today he had two great diving grabs out there. We’re going to see what he can’t do this spring.”
If last year is any indication, that probably won’t be very much.