Photos courtesy of Georgia Southern
By Tim Gayle
Kyle Vantrease was thinking about a new challenge when he elected to transfer to Georgia Southern University.
The fifth-year senior had made a name for himself at Buffalo — and earned a degree in the process — but wanted to take advantage of the transfer portal for his final year of collegiate football.
“A lot of the people I came in with had either transferred or graduated, most of them graduated,” he said. “I had spent five years there and I wanted to get into a different system where I could show a little more with my arm. Just a change of scenery for my last year.”
Vantrease, who was redshirted in 2018 , had already spent five years playing with the Bulls, but wanted a “change of scenery.” Perhaps Akron, where he grew up. Maybe Bowling Green, where his mother Patti had been a collegiate swimmer. Instead, he chose a school in the Deep South known for its option attack, but was changing to a wide-open passing offense under new coach Clay Helton.
“Choosing Georgia Southern was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Vantrease said. “The staff, the people, the football, the fans, the tradition, everything about that university and that town has made me a better man and a better player.
“I wanted to get in some warmer weather and I definitely succeeded. A whole different culture and a whole different climate. I looked at all the opportunities I had in the transfer portal and I took my main points I wanted in a university. I talked to my family and Georgia Southern was the right one.”
But just as Helton had to do a good job of selling Georgia Southern and his new coaching staff, Vantrease had to sell the coaching staff on his previous five years with the Bulls.
“We basically watched all three years of him starting, basically every pass he has ever thrown,” Helton said. “He led Buffalo to a (Mid-American Conference) championship game (in 2020) with coach (Lance) Leipold. He had a new staff come in and a new system come in and he was basically a 23-year-old man who said I’ve got my degree, a master’s degree from Buffalo, I’d like to have a different change of pace and go to a place where I throw it 50-60 times. He saw that opportunity and made the most out of it.”
In one season, Vantrease has completed 343 of 559 passes for 3,900 yards and 25 touchdowns, nearly duplicating his career numbers at Buffalo (387 of 654 for 4,755 yards and 25 touchdowns). But there’s no way he know the future when he was shopping around for a new program. It was more of a leap of faith in Clay Helton.
“I had known of Coach Helton before, just because of his time at USC,” Vantrease said. “I did some research on (offensive coordinator) Coach (Bryan) Ellis, asked around to some people that I knew. I got down there and watched some film and he told me the kind of weapons that they have and what they’re going to try and do on offense. Everything appealed to me.
“To be able to take a triple-option based team and in one year flip it into a top five passing offense in the country, it’s been super fun to a part of.”
Now, as his collegiate career draws to a close, he can’t help but see the irony as his new team plays his old one in the ninth annual Camellia Bowl on Tuesday at Cramton Bowl at 11 a.m.
“It’s definitely strange,” Vantrease said. “It hit me a little while we were prepping for the game, then I got down here and got on the phone with some of my buddies and was walking outside and saw them up in their hotel rooms. I was like, ‘This is kind of weird,’ but I’m excited for it. It’s going to be a lot of fun to be able to see them and compete against them.”
Two years ago, he was on the winning side when Buffalo defeated Marshall on Christmas Day. Now, he hopes to take the 2020 experience and use it to his advantage.
“It’s kind of neat to be able to play in it again,” Vantrease said. “We played in it in 2020 during COVID and we were staying at the other hotel, where Buffalo is staying this year. It was during COVID so some of the things were shut down but we’re going to able to go and see some of the history here. I’m familiar with the stadium. I’m familiar with the atmosphere there, so that’s always an added bonus for me. I’m excited to be back here. It’s a cool town, it’s a cool game. I’m excited to compete.”