It's been nearly 21 months since Tyler Vander Waal last played in a real football game.
That all changes Saturday night when the University of Wyoming redshirt freshman quarterback makes his first college start. The Cowboys open the 2018 season at 10 p.m. ET at New Mexico State.
"I've been thinking about just picturing what I am going to do," Vander Waal said. "I'm a little nervous. Playing in front of 25,000-30,000 people on national television (ESPN2). Hopefully, the nerves calm down."
The last game Vander Waal played in was in December 2016 in the championship game of the Sac-Joaquin sectional playoffs for Christian Brothers High in Sacramento, California.
Vander Waal and his teammates lost that game.
There's no doubt Vander Waal wants to start his college career on a better note. Even though there will be nerves, he said he will try to stay loose during pregame warm-ups.
"I will listen to music — hip-hop stuff like Drake, J. Cole," Vander Waal said. "I will be singing on the field. I also will survey the atmosphere and know where everyone will be at."
This will be the fourth different quarterback to start the season in Wyoming coach Craig Bohl's five seasons. Two of the previous three won their first starts in games they completed. However, this will be the first time in the Bohl era at Wyoming that his first-time starter will do so on the road.
"In my experience, that's sometimes a challenge," Bohl said. "We need to make sure Tyler's set and ready to go. We're excited about how Tyler has done so far.
Quarterbacks @nicksmith_mi & @QB_18_V are both pushing and learning from each other. Listen to what else they have to say in today's Fall Camp Practice Report #BuildingSomethingSpecial #OneWyoming #GoWyo pic.twitter.com/8vCkBmGn88— Wyoming Cowboy Football (@wyo_football) August 8, 2018
"We'll find our way. (Associate head coach and offensive coordinator) Brent Vigen is an experienced coordinator, and he has fashioned a great game plan. There's a lot of clarity in what we think we can do."
What Vigen hopes Wyoming can do, first and foremost, is take pressure off Vander Waal by running the football.
"We feel like we will run it well," Vigen said. "We will ask (Vander Waal) to be able to balance run-game checks, but not overdo it. As for the passing game, we want him to do things he is comfortable with and good for his skill set.
"We also need to make sure he understands he is only one guy out there among 11."
Junior wide receiver Austin Conway, who led Wyoming with 62 catches for 553 yards last season, said he has seen Vander Waal's confidence grow since the spring, when he competed with fifth-year senior Nick Smith for the starting job. Conway also seems to have gotten Vigen's message about the other 10 players pulling their weight so it all doesn't fall on Vander Waal.
"We're going to do as much as we can to make it easy for him," Conway said. "If it is easy for him, it is easy for us. If it is difficult for him, it is difficult for all of us. We have to make sure he has a calm environment and doesn't feel pressure that he has to do all of it."
Vigen is in his fifth year as Wyoming's offensive coordinator, and served as either the passing game coordinator or offensive coordinator for Bohl at North Dakota State from 2004-13.
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Vigen said Vander Waal is the first quarterback he and Bohl have had going back to their days at North Dakota State who will start in his first game possible.
Even Josh Allen didn't start in the opener during his first year at Wyoming in 2015. Allen started the second game but broke his right clavicle and was lost for the season.
At North Dakota State, quarterbacks Brock Jensen and Carson Wentz turned out to be stars, but they didn't start right away, either.
"What stood out with (Vander Waal) was his attention to detail as he battled for the position," Vigen said. "Most of the time, there are limits freshmen can handle in terms of the mental capacity of the position, but Tyler has done a really good job with that.
"As long as we don't ask too much, he will carry that to the game field."
Check in with @NextUp_Nico @Austin__Fort @M_Epps06 as the trio previews the season opener at New Mexico State. Also read up on Saturday evening's contest.— Wyoming Cowboy Football (@wyo_football) August 23, 2018
📖: https://t.co/MY3mbM21oK#OneWyoming #GoWyo pic.twitter.com/2KEqlKlR24
New Mexico State figures to throw a lot at Vander Waal.
The Aggies recorded 43 quarterback sacks, forced 27 turnovers and were seventh in the country in third-down conversion defense last season.
Many of the key players from that defense return.
There will be a lot for Vander Waal to process, and to expect perfection is unrealistic. However, he has gone against a formidable Wyoming defense going back to the spring that forced a nation-best 38 turnovers in 2017 and allowed 17.5 points per game.
"He is very mature, and he doesn't spaz out like a lot of young guys do," senior right guard Kaden Jackson said of Vander Waal. "He is ready to get going and show what he can do."
What will be the one thing that settles Vander Waal down once the game gets underway?
"The first hit," he said. "I know the speed of the game will be a lot faster than high school, and guys will be bigger and coming at me harder.
"But once I get that first hit, I will be good to go."
This article is written by Robert Gagliardi from Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.