Tyler Vanderhoff and Nicole Dobler, on the Les Schwab Sports Park field at the Bob Keefer Center, are combining their passions for sports and business. ERIN TIERNEY/CHRONICLE PHOTO
When Tyler Vanderhoff graduated from North Eugene High School in 2009, he was not sure if he wanted to play football or basketball in college.
Vanderhoff’s decision was delayed along with his athletic career when he found out that some of his English credits did not count toward college.
“I wasn’t NCAA-eligible despite having a 2.63 GPA,” he recently recalled. “It was good enough to go to college, but in order to play someplace, I did not have the right amount of English credits.”
Thus, Vanderhoff began a winding college experience at Warner Pacific on a basketball scholarship before realizing he missed playing football. He transferred to Los Angeles Valley College to play football, but financial concerns sent him back home to join his brother, A.J., on the basketball team at Eugene Bible College.
Tyler moved on to continue his basketball career at South Puget Sound Community College before spending his final two years of college on the football team at Southern Oregon University.
“I played two years of football and three years of basketball in college, so technically I can still play both sports at the NAIA level,” he joked.
Vanderhoff’s life lesson led him to create Pac West Academy, a post-grad football program for players who were not eligible to play college football or who did not find opportunities to play at that level after high school.
“People ask if we are semi-pro or they confuse us with high school and 7-on-7 football because there is nothing else like it around here,” said Vanderhoff, who is the founder and president of Pac West. “That is why I decided to go with it. I could have started a 7-on-7 program or something that already has so much going on around here, but I wanted to bring in something that was new and needed in the area.”
Pac West offers three different academic paths for its players:
• Students who were ineligible to play in college can take recovery courses to become eligible.
• Players who are eligible to play in college, but were not recruited, can take part-time community college courses to begin their academic work without starting their NCAA eligibility clock.
• Players who want to attend a community college like Lane can also join the team while attending school on a full-time basis.
No matter the path, all players will receive recruiting assistance from Pac West, which will help them create a recruiting profile and post highlights on Hudl – a website utilized by college recruiters. Vanderhoff will also help his players schedule official and unofficial visits to colleges during the season.
While academic programs will be online, players will have eight hours of in-person instruction including study hall, career development, or SAT and ACT preparation each week at the Bob Keefer Center in Springfield. Players in need of housing will be roommates in townhouses at a nearby apartment complex.
Vanderhoff planned to get the Mountain Goats on the field last fall, but had to delay the start until 2022 when he expects to have at least 30 players on the roster.
“We didn’t have the numbers last year,” he said. “We had 17 guys at the time, including 11 from out of state, and we didn’t want to bring them in and then have to send them back home if we couldn’t play. We started this program for locals and we didn’t have the buzz we wanted, so we decided to continue to grow for next year.”
Vanderhoff, 30, will serve as head coach, with five assistants. Nicole Dobler, the team’s chief financial officer is also the operating officer at Pac West Academy Foundation. She said she runs the business to free up Vanderhoff for recruiting and on-field work.
Tyler Vanderhoff and Nicole Dobler inside one of the classrooms. ERIN TIERNEY/ THE CHRONICLE
He has six games on the schedule against junior varsity teams at Pacific University, George Fox, and Linfield as well as club teams in Washington and Idaho.
Vanderhoff began coaching youth basketball after high school and was working with AAU teams when he graduated from college. He began organizing basketball camps under the name Pac West Academy and kept it when he switched to football last year.
Vanderhoff was coaching the Kuopio Steelers, a football team in Finland, when the pandemic hit in March 2020. He returned home figuring it was time to get Pac West Academy set up for football.
He runs the nonprofit organization along with Nicole Dobler, the chief operating officer. There are also nine interns working for the Academy, which will host the second annual Craig Howard Memorial golf tournament at Oakway Golf Course in June.
Twelve players attended a fall training camp and most are expected to be on the field when the Mountain Goats open fall camp in August. Vanderhoff hopes to fill out the roster with a 2022 recruiting class.
“We have a good list of local guys in this class that want to play, so a combination of them and the 12 we had at camp gives us a good shot at having 30 players by July,” Vanderhoff said. “We are still recruiting some guys from out of the area, but our focus is on Oregon because there are so many players here that we haven’t been able to talk to yet.”
The 2020 high school football season was pushed to the spring for a shortened schedule with limited spectators. Vanderhoff was able to get out to a local game each Friday to expand his recruiting base in the fall.
Tyler Vanderhoff and Nicole Dobler, on the Les Schwab Sports Park field at the Bob Keefer Center. ERIN TIERNEY/ THE CHRONICLE
“Last year, with no games until the spring, it was all cluttered so it would have been risky if you are trying to do it for the long haul,” Vanderhoff said. “We didn’t want to start off iffy and then only do it for a year or two. We want this to last a long time so this community can count on us each year for an opportunity to play college football.