Archived Voice Articles

Football is coming

By Sally Jongsma

Coach John Heavner logged eighty-four hours on his cell phone between January 15 and April 1. That’s in addition to the many calls made on his office phone and the many hours it is taking to get Dordt’s first football team ready for competition in September.

“It takes organization and work,” Heavner says. He lists what he’s had to do: order equipment, hire coaches, make nightly phone calls, travel across the country to meet recruits, figure out where to practice, coordinate pre-semester practices with campus housing and food service. And then there’s the planning for the actual practices.

“Most people probably don’t know what planning a practice involves,” he explains. Equipment needs to be set up, taken down, and stored for each practice; ankles need to be taped; daily hour-long position meetings need to be scheduled, planned, and scripted.

“It takes five to six hours to plan a practice,” Heavner says. Each position has its own offensive and defensive strategies, requiring a great deal of individual coaching.

“It’s what separates football from other sports,” Heavner says, adding that playing football demands intelligence and strategy of both coaches and players. “It isn’t just running out on the field and plowing into one another,” he notes wryly.

Heavner knows he has to focus on the details because they are important for developing a good program. But, he says, getting the details right won’t automatically make the program. In fact, simply developing “a” football program would be relatively easy. The challenge is to develop a program that fits with Dordt’s educational vision, basing it on the Reformed Christian worldview that stands at the heart of Dordt’s educational program.

“I’d like to be able to convince everyone who questioned whether we should have football at Dordt College that it can be done in a way that fits with our view of things,” he says. Rethinking how to set up football within those parameters takes time.

Nevertheless, Heavner believes that everything is on track to begin the program. “We have everything we need to build the program,” he says.

The challenge has been greater than he expected, though. He expected that it would take work to build a recruiting base. Relying on schools that have traditionally sent students to Dordt College won’t provide enough football players to build a team. So he has called all the coaches he can for leads on students that might fit at Dordt. He visits schools. He talks to students and parents, describing Dordt's educational program and the range of merit and need-based financial aid available.

Heavner even knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince students who didn’t know anything about Dordt College to come to a Christian academic institution in a small town to play start-up football. But he has found students who want to come to Dordt College because of what it offers.

What he didn’t expect to be so hard was to draw students and parents from Christian schools.

“I did think more football players would be eager to come to Dordt for the Christian education it offers and be pleased to be able to play football too. I’ve found, though, that it usually boils down to money, no matter who the students are,” he says. In his recruiting, Heavner continues to stress how football is part of a very intentional Christian educational program at Dordt College, but says that often he could as well skip right to how much it will cost.

His efforts have paid off. He is excited about the students who will make up the first Dordt College Defender football team. Among them are students who believe Dordt offers them a special opportunity to get a strong Christian education and play a game they’ve enjoyed and done well in.

“I’m committed to those kids and want to make sure that it will be a special opportunity,” Heavner says. To him that means helping his recruits to be the best they can be in every area of their lives. Exceptional experiences often boil down to strong relationships, he says, and he intends to make those relationships a priority.

“NAIA football is not a football factory,” he says. The strength of Dordt’s football program will be its approach to the whole person. As they develop as individuals and as team, that holistic approach will help create a strong team, he’s convinced.

“Some people have asked me if I’ve lost my mind coming from a Division I program to a start-up program,” Heavner says. The opportunity to become part of a school rooted in a Reformed worldview was too exciting for him to pass up. He also believed it would allow him to pursue his dream of coaching football and at the same time live a more balanced family and professional life. In his winning way, Heavner’s enthusiasm is contagious. Even though he says “there’s a million things left to do” before August, as you talk to him it’s not hard to believe that he will truly provide a special opportunity for those who have committed to studying and playing football at Dordt College.