April 27, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Head football coach Trent Figg poses with Joust, the Calvin University mascot.
Head football coach Trent Figg poses with Joust, the Calvin University mascot.

When Trent Figg stepped to the podium in mid-January to introduce himself to the Calvin community and beyond, he knew he would have to do quick work. After all, it was two weeks before signing day.

He needed to sell a program that at the time had no support staff, no facilities, no offices, and very few footballs. He also needed student athletes who would be willing to wait one year before playing in competitive games.

Fast forward three months, and it’s clear, the former University of Oregon offensive specialist, has players buying in.

Sign me up

“As of this morning, we have 54 men reporting to fall camp,” said Figg.

Figg started recruiting fast, both coaches and players. He hired well-respected coordinators on both sides of the ball, as well as supporting staff.

As a team, the coaching staff then started recruiting players. Figg’s goal was to hit west Michigan and the state of Michigan hard in his first year. And he did. About 70% of his recruits hail from the state.

A talented first class

“Most of the men that we have committed had multiple offers,” said Figg. “We were recruiting against every school in our conference, and we were able to win that recruiting battle. The talent level coming into this class is really good. We have all-state football players from the state of Michigan, all-region guys, all academic guys, men that I am really excited to add their talent to this group.”

Figg and his staff are also already utilizing their connections across the country to attract students from outside of Michigan. Players from Illinois, Texas, and the state of Washington are also among the 2023 recruiting class.

Seeing retention as marker of success

While the numbers are impressive early on, and so too the on-field talent, Figg knows it goes much deeper than that at a place like Calvin.

“I’m excited about the quality of student-athlete we’ve been able to attract,” said Figg. “I’d like to think that we’ve identified the right men who are going to stay here. That’s how you build a successful program, through retention. We want to build sustained success. We will win by recruiting great student athletes that understand Calvin.”

Better training, less pressure

The student athletes Calvin recruits to play football will have to exercise a bit of patience, needing to wait a full year before they play a competitive football game. Though Figg says perhaps that’s not to be seen as a detriment, but rather as an asset.

“Most college freshmen don’t play their first year. So, this is similar to what a redshirt year would be like at the Division I or II level for these guys,” said Figg. “But, when you go to an established football program, juniors and seniors take the majority of the coaches’ attention. Now, our guys who are a part of this first class are getting the same attention as those juniors and seniors at other programs. They have a true advantage in their training and development.”

Figg says it may also help with their transition to a college experience.

“These guys are truly going to get to transition at a really nice pace,” said Figg. “If I could go back and do it that way, I would have loved a year to transition while still getting the training, the coaching, and the individualized attention I’d need without the immediate pressure of a Saturday.”

Developing leaders

And that extra attention will be key to developing leaders. After all, Calvin’s football team will be the youngest in the conference when it takes the field for its first official game on September 7, 2024.

“They are going to be leaders right away, not walking into a locker room with 21 and 22-year-olds, we are going to spend quality time with them over the next year, because we have about 60 guys on the roster [this year], not 100. We will grow them as leaders. As the 2024 class then comes in, a standard will be set, and we will build on that year-after-year. This class and the next one will truly lay the groundwork for this program.”

Strengthening the program

Joining the strong entering class are 11 current Calvin students committed to playing football for the Knights. They’ve already begun their work in the weight room with Calvin’s new head strength and conditioning coach Henry DuMez.

“I can’t be around the training sessions, but I interact with those guys on a daily basis and there’s a very visible change in their bodies, in the makeup of their bodies in just a five-week period,” said Figg. “Henry does a phenomenal job. I can’t wait for him to start working with our incoming freshmen. It’s so important for their development. I’m telling you; we’ve got the right guy for the job. And you can see it across the board on all of our teams, on all of our athletes, real changes in their body composition, their ability to move and change directions.”

Figg, who has been around football at many programs across the country, knows just how important that strength and conditioning coach is to not only building student athletes, but to building a culture.

“That piece, strength and conditioning, truly lays the foundation for your culture. You can see those 11 guys on campus, they’re buying into the expectation that we show up on time, we’re dressed correctly, this is our culture, we do things the right way. And all that is set in the weight room. Your strength coach is the most important coach on your staff. You are guaranteed 10 games a year, those other 320 days they are with the strength coach more than anyone else. So, right now, he’s made the biggest impression on our players, more than anyone else at the university. The investment in him has paid off ten-fold.”

Figg is excited for the time when he can interact with his team on the field, a team which is quite balanced, at least two-deep at every position on both sides of the ball. Figg says this will allow for the team to have full practices right away come August.

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