A field. A pile of dirt.
Eighteen months ago, Indiana Wesleyan University birthed a football program. As Linebackers’ Coach CJ Nightingale walked across what would be midfield he saw only a pile of dirt in a field, but he knew what could be. He and others could see it.
“In the Winter of 2016 this was all just a pile of dirt. All we could do was recruit towards a vision. Our program at that point started with describing our culture. All our focus was on three things—the spiritual, the academic, and the athletic—in that order.”
The culture, the vision for the culture, was unseen, but very real.
“We recruited guys that wanted that, who could identify with that, and then we started building.”
When the Wildcats open their season at home against the Taylor Trojans on the first of September, not only will the season be new, but the program will be new and the jerseys and helmets and the very turf they play on will be new. Everything about Indiana Wesleyan football is new.
As CJ showed Helmet Tracker around the new football facility at the south end zone of Wildcat Stadium, his coaching peers were busy unpacking cardboard boxes of gear. With enthusiasm. Everywhere you go, every person you meet associated with Indiana Wesleyan football seems to have been issued vast amounts of abundant enthusiasm.
“A lot of the gear we ordered was received before the building was built,” said Defensive Line Coach Josh Aldrin. “It was all spread out throughout buildings on campus and as this got finished, we started bringing things in.”
They also brought in 53 players last year—football players committed to IWU without any competition the first year, without a schedule, without much of what they had in high school. Not at that time. But now, now they have everything—everything except college football experience.
“Last year, our first year, was most interesting,” CJ said. “We had a fall with no football games. Saturdays is what these guys want to get to—it’s what they are here for. So we had scrimmages, we had practices, and we lifted.”
Motivational Weight Room
Head Coach Jordan Langs designed the weight room, if that’s what you call the area where the strength and conditioning equipment resides now. The area is a sunken section of a larger lobby to the football facility. It’s more like the Motivational Center. With every lift, every squat, every curl, the players gaze out to the field and see what they are working toward. Floor to ceiling windows separate the weight room from an end zone.
Forty-five more players joined the vanguard a few weeks ago.
“The school started football,” CJ tells us, “because they saw a void in young men.”
That was eight years ago! Eight. The freshmen coming on campus and donning the uniform this fall were fourth-graders.
“We are so very thankful for the great support from our AD and the athletic department, and from the university administration, and the whole community,” he said. “We are going to be the hardest, fastest, most physical team we can be. Naturally, we want to win.”
Indiana Wesleyan Head Coach
Jordan Langs knows some things and doesn’t know some things.
He knows football. He knows success on the gridiron. Jordan served as defensive coordinator for the Wheaton Thunder from 2014 through 2016. The team went 33-4 and won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin twice.
He doesn’t know what is like to be a Head Coach during a game. He doesn’t know what it is like to lead a brand new football team onto a brand new field.
“We are still, in a way, in the honeymoon phase,” he told us. “We are turning the corner, though. We are on the backstretch and breaking for the starting line. I am, we are, antsy to get going.”
He admits to few nerves, focusing on the excitement of finally playing football and the passion he and his coaches have to create a culture that forms men of character and substance.
“Our expectation is to constantly live inside our best. We want to be at our best and even though we understand the limitations of having two classes of recruits we are going to gear up and give our absolute best. If we do that, that’s good, whether we win or lose. If we do that, I will sleep like a baby September 1.”
Now, of course Jordan knows the scoreboard will serve as some sort of gradebook for him and the program.
“We are excited about the talent we have. We will be competitive.”
Winning at Life
Competitiveness doesn’t always translate to winning, though he admits to a certain expectation victories, too. What he has worked to establish, with himself, his coaches, players, and supporters, are long-term goals.
“We understand that if we approach it a certain way, we will get the results we need,” he said. “Success this year is to have the culture we want to create to really set in. Success is that if at Thanksgiving the foundation for IWU football has been set with the right people, the right recruiting, and the right players, we will win some football games.
“In the future, then, there should be no ceiling for us,” he said, pausing and seeming to weigh in the brief silence whether he should say what he wants to say next. He decides and with energy moves forward. “We should be fighting to be the best team in the country as the years go on. Very few can say they want to be national champs and have what they need to accomplish that.
Coach Pedigree and Preparation
Just a few months ago, Jordan’s father, Kevin Langs, was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He led the Climax-Scotts High School Panthers to the playoffs all but three times in the past 19 years, with 12 conference championships, and a State Championship in 2004. His record is 172-48.
“What has prepared me the most,” says Jordan Langs as he eyes his first football game as a Head Coach, “by far it is my father. He prepared me. I had mentors at Wheaton who also prepared me. And the Lord has wired me to learn from people’s experiences and use the knowledge that is around me.”
Jordan excelled as a Defensive Coordinator at Wheaton, but he realized quickly that preparing the team to defend the end zone wasn’t at the top of his career desires.
“I’m not a core Xs and Os guy. That doesn't wake me up. I wake up because I want to be a culture guy, a vision guy. That is what gets me up in the morning—the opportunity to create and instill culture, intentionally.”
He focuses and wants everyone in the program to focus on the acronym CLIMB: Consistently Living Inside My Best.
“This means to do what you say you will do and have an unwavering love for others.” This is a way of living for everyone associated with IWU football.
There are seven new college football teams who take the field for the first time this year.
One of them, the Lawrence Tech Blue Devils, appears on the Wildcat’s schedule twice this year. Both teams will compete in the NAIA Mid-States Football Association in 2019. The Trinity Trojans won the MSFA Conference Championship in Helmet Bowl I last year, edging out the Taylor Trojans by just one point. Will the Wildcats or the Blue Devils compete there, or on the field, or both?
The other new teams are:
- Allen University— Columbia, South Carolina, NAIA, Independent.
- Alvernia University — Reading, Pennsylvania, Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference.
- Keiser University — West Palm Beach, Florida, NAIA, Mid-South Conference.
- Ottawa University-Arizona— Surprise, Arizona., NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference.
- University of New England — Biddeford, Maine, Division III, Commonwealth Coast Conference.
Designed Helmets, Uniforms
When Jordan arrived on campus, his inner gear nerd emerged.
“It was cool. They gave me a budget and I went to get what I needed. I designed the weight room, the helmets, the uniform. I loved every minute of it!”
The Indiana Wesleyan branding, Jordan said, is important. “At one point all we had to sell was how cool our stuff was! Now we are starting to be known for our gear. We recruit with it and we are excited to bring the rest of the program up to speed.”
Indeed. Just a couple more weeks and the Wildcats will put down their first W—whether that be in their program opener, or down the schedule a week or two. This is one, soon mark of success. But for Jordan Langs and his coaching cohorts, another mark of success will be in the years and decades to come when the football players they prepare for life create positive influence in whatever they decide to do off the gridiron.