Football isn’t the only thing junior Josh Vander Maten stands for.
While the role of quarterback has brought along with it great responsibility for the junior University of South Dakota football player, he said he hasn’t let it consume his whole life.
In fact, an average busy Wednesday for Vander Maten isn’t stuffed with extra workouts or film study but with faith and teaching.
“Wednesday nights are pretty busy for me. After practice, I go to church, and I teach a fifth and sixth grade youth group,” Vander Maten said. “We have a good group at Cornerstone Church. We learn the gospel, play games and have a good time with it.”
Those nights don’t stop there.
“Then I have a church Bible study and later FCA. It gets to be a lot by the end of the night,” he said. “But God has given me everything. The least I can give him is my Wednesdays.”
The six foot two inch, 215-pound quarterback grew up a son of Wayne and Jan Vander Maten, in what he calls small-town, religious and conservative Boyden, Iowa.
“I grew up with such a close family. If I could go home every weekend, I probably would,” Vander Maten said.
Jan Vander Maten says her son still ends up at home many Sundays in the offseason. He is especially close to his siblings, who have become his biggest supporters.
“Him and his siblings are there for each other through everything. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, they have each other’s backs,” she said.
His senior year at Boyden-Hull High School, Vander Maten led his town’s football team to the state championship while also receiving recruiting attention on the basketball court. At USD, Vander Maten is more than just a quarterback in the eyes of his teammates, and his influence among his teammates extends well beyond the field.
Senior tight end Tyler Wilhelm said Vander Maten has become an exemplary leader on and off the field during his time as a Coyote.
“He’s a role model out there. He leads by example and takes pride in being a good guy,” Wilhelm said.
While Vander Maten said he wouldn’t label himself a role model, his hope is to be one, especially for the group of kids he sees every Wednesday.
“You want to really set an example for those kids,” Vander Maten said.
From establishing USD in Division-I football, to the hiring of new head coach Joe Glenn, to a 1-10 first season, Vander Maten has dealt with many challenges in his time on campus.
And while he said he has had the option to fold, that doesn’t suit him.
“We did go through a tough year last year and even years before. You don’t really plan on that, but we have stuck together,” he said.
Vander Maten said he isn’t one to lay blame. He has grown from the challenges presented to him and his team. In the process, he has developed his own unique form of leadership — one his coaches value greatly.
“Josh cares about being a leader and being the guy who is going to do his job to the very best he can,” Glenn said. “I’m sure he’d want to be friends with everybody on the team and hang out with everyone on the team, but you can’t be everybody’s kind of guy.”
Vander Maten said he handles every trial to the best of his abilities, drawing his mental toughness from his parents as well as his faith.
Plus, he said has his own sense of humility that guides him.
“I’m not very big on talking about myself. So, for me, I just try to be an encouraging, uplifting person and try to be a friend out there,” he said.
His teammates have taken note over the years about how Vander Maten operates. Since becoming a teammate with Vander Maten at USD, Wilhelm has seen him come into his own as a teammate and as a leader.
“(Vander Maten) has realized his role on the team. As a quarterback, you have to be a vocal leader, and he’s done his best to speak up when needed to and keep quiet when he needs to,” Wilhelm said. “He finds the happy medium between them both.”
According to Vander Maten, treating everyone the same and being positive are the best ways to do business.
For him, making sure he never gets down on anyone is how he ensures the Coyotes stick together.
“I just think encouragement is the most powerful thing you can have as a leader,” he said. “If I see someone down, I try to pick them up, and sometimes it takes as little work as going to someone and saying ‘Hey, how are you today? You’re going to have a great game today.’ I try to reach out and just be a good friend.”
Being a supportive teammate isn’t always easy, but Glenn knows that role was made exactly for Vander Maten.
“He’s very true and straightforward,” Glenn said. “He trains year-round. He’s not a clown. He’s the guy who’s serious about his life and everything he does.”
“There’s not a harder worker on the team. There’s not anyone who cares about this football team or this program or his teammates more than Josh.”
Saturday will mark the third Dakota Days football game Vander Maten will celebrate with the Coyotes. After being indecisive about his football career and walking-on to the team, Vander Maten said it has been special to say he has been a part of the D-Days tradition.
“It’s crazy to think that it’s been my fourth D-Days already,” Vander Maten said. “We want to bring our school and community a win on D-Days. That’s very important for us. You’re always excited for D-Days because it’s always a good time. There’s a lot of people and just a lot of fun.”
However, Vander Maten may have reached one of the largest hills to climb during his time as Coyote when he was benched three quarters into USD’s 24-10 loss to Western Illinois Saturday in Macomb, Ill.
He was replaced by sophomore back-up quarterback Kevin Earl, who went on to throw for 88 yards in one quarter of play and led the Coyotes to their only score of the game.
Looking forward, Vander Maten knows the coaches will have the team ready to play well and pick up their first conference win of the season. The team understands it needs a win, and Vander Maten believes it’ll do everything to pick one up despite all the distractions surrounding D-Days.
“You just have to treat it like any other week,” he said. “You try to keep everyone on the straight and narrow path. The game is the most important thing, so we have to focus and just go out there and play our game. Coach gives us a great game plan every week. It’s our job to execute.”