Hey, I’m the new guy.
Have you ever been the new kid on the block before? Or the new addition to a classroom? Maybe joined a pick-up basketball game that you don’t know anyone else at? Or even just walked into a bar that you have never been to before?
You might be surprised by the feelings that follow. You can feel a bit out of place. It is uncomfortable.
Yet with that discomfort comes a more powerful energy. There is a heightened sense of drive. You want to fit in. You want to show everyone that you can succeed – that you belong.
That’s about how the George Fox University football team is feeling right now. Coming into its first season in 45 years, the Oregon-based team is both anxious and excited for the opportunity to prove to its peers that they are indeed ready to compete.
“I would say we’re hungry. We are hungry just to play,” said assistant coach Gabe Haberly.
That hunger is fuel for competition. The team is amped to take the field. It should be, as 60 of its players were redshirts last year. These players practiced last fall while having no games to show for it. A year later, they are ready to reap the benefits of what they sowed.
“For a first year team, the norm is that a team barely wins one game. Not us, we will shock a lot of people this year,” said junior running back John Shaffer. Shaffer transferred from Linfield College – a Northwest Conference powerhouse – for the opportunity to start something special at George Fox. “Personally, I am excited to help start this movement. If it comes with accolades, then so be it. But if it comes with me making other players become big forces I would much rather have that. I would much rather teach someone what I know and watch them excel.”
That sort of camaraderie will be a staple for the Bruins. The team will need it for its tough bouts awaiting them in the Northwest Conference.
— George Fox Athletics (@GFUAthletics) August 16, 2014
Yet the George Fox squad is ready for those fights.
“We will hit you in the mouth,” said Haberly, who will be primarily focusing on quarterbacks. “And we will make no excuses. We are not going to allow the fact that we are a young and new team dictate who we are and how we play.”
We will hit you in the mouth, and we will make no excuses.
Shaffer backed up his coach’s pugnacity: “I love being the underdog or the unknown. Nobody really knows what we have the potential to be. It’s electric and a very exciting feeling over here at George Fox,” said Shaffer. “It’s something I haven’t felt since high school.”
Haberly and Shaffer both bring experience to a program that will be dawning its first season in 45 years. Haberly is a former player himself. He played quarterback and defensive back for Linfield College from 2005-2009. He then coached both football and track at Linfield up until the 2013 season. Linfield football has consistently won the Northwest Conference title over the last decade. Thus, Haberly is no stranger to success. “I feel very blessed – very fortunate – to have been trained in such a good system such as Linfield,” said Haberly.
Linfield College is just 16 miles away from George Fox University. That proximity combined with the fact that the two schools compete in the Northwest Conference makes for a potentially potent rivalry. Yet Haberly doesn’t feel the heat just yet. “It will be a little weird to coach against Linfield. They taught me so much there,” said Haberly.
Haberly still has great love for his alma mater. But the opportunity to build a program – and a legacy – at George Fox was enticing enough to draw him to the challenge.
“It is an honor to be a part of this team and build it the right way… and to start from scratch. It is an incredible challenge, too,” said Haberly.
He acknowledged that with a program like Linfield, there is a leadership system in place. There are winning seasons to back up that leadership. Thus, there is a system in place to help smoothly go about actions within the program, such as recruiting and practice routines. With George Fox, everything must be created from scratch.
“It’s interesting and an honor to be able to create that (leadership system) here. Yet it is challenging because creating that takes time, it takes work, so it’s a lot harder. It’s more challenging. But it is exciting to accept that challenge,” said Haberly.
Haberly is also one of the strength and conditioning coaches for the George Fox team. With his extensive experience in coaching track and field as well as his educational background in athletic performance (Haberly received a Master’s Degree in biomechanics from Oregon State University in 2013), Haberly has excelled at improving his players physically.
It is something that Shaffer noticed within Haberly and the rest of the coaching staff as well.
“(Our training) has been more than impressive; better than I would expect. I felt like with the staff we have on board there is a solid understanding on how to train,” said Shaffer. “I think having (Haberly) on the staff is extremely beneficial. He is one smart guy and will bring so much to the table to help this program.”
Shaffer has extensive experience of his own with the likes of Northwest Conference football. As a running back at Linfield College, Shaffer led the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012. He scored seven touchdowns that year, including the game-winner against Pacific Lutheran in a mid-season battle. He took the ball going right and was hit square in the waist behind the line of scrimmage. Yet he had the strength and balance to bounce off of the tackle. He then booked it to the left. Sweeping around the defense and up the sideline, Shaffer narrowly avoided defenders with his quick feet. Over 30 yards later, he crossed into the end zone. It sealed the game with only a few minutes left. Linfield won 31-24. It was that game – and that touchdown – that separated Linfield as being the Northwest Conference champion that year.
It’s that type of talent that is going to help George Fox football succeed. Yet there is more than just physical talent that Shaffer has to offer.
“I believe I bring a ton of experience to this young team,” said Shaffer. “I will bring a winning attitude and the great things Linfield has taught me. Obviously they are doing it right since they are so successful. I am very excited as I have a chip on my shoulders for these next two seasons.”
That tenacity will be put to the test on September 6th, when George Fox faces off with Arizona Christian, a fellow school in its first football season. It will be quite the unique opportunity for George Fox to compare itself to a team that is also playing its first game.
“I am really excited for our first game against Arizona Christian,” said Haberly. “It might be the biggest homecoming event in George Fox’s history. We’ll have a lot of people back for the first football game. And we get to break the seal on this new stadium. Everything will be new and… you know, it is the first football game (here) in 45 years. I’m excited.”
George Fox’s first football game will be both literally and figuratively historic. Yet the Bruins will have to pride themselves on their conference match ups, as that is the true road to success. To make it to the playoffs, teams in NCAA Division III football must essentially win their conference. The teams that do that get automatic bids to the playoffs. Then, a handful of teams are selected by the NCAA Division III board members as additions to the playoff bracket. The teams selected are typically ones that finished in a close second to the conference champion. Think of these teams as the “wildcard” teams as compared to how the National Football League conducts their playoff system.
The top-ranked Christian private school is setting its sights high for its first football season.
“I am very confident that we are going to win football games this year. We are going to, at the very least, compete in every game,” said Haberly. “I think the most important thing we can do this year is compete the best we can and really just compare ourselves to ourselves.”
The Bruins will soon enough have a team that resembles a contender in the Northwest Conference. It will take experience, good players, and better coaching. With over 80 more recruited players joining the original team of 60 redshirt freshman, the Bruins will surely find the talent to compete in Division III football. A handful of those players were recently playing in the Oregon East-West Shrine Game, an All-Star game for talented high school football players.
The Bruins are craving a first taste of game action. Come September, they will get just that. Get your napkins ready, folks, because this hungry football team is ready to eat.