In his third season as the head football coach at Rockford University, Jim Schroeder is helping to build the Regents program so that it is destined for success but, even more importantly, he is helping to develop young men dedicated to the principle of FAMILY.
Introducing Jim Schroeder
Family. That means so many things to different people. For some, a family unit can be as small as a husband and wife or expanded to mean not only blood relatives, but also those close friends who have become like an extended brother, sister, child, or son. Then there are those cases where a person does not have any blood relatives or does not know who they are, and so they have adopted people into their own family, or been adopted into another.
What is true is that a family goes well beyond those of the same ancestry or those who have been legally connected through marriage or adoption. It has often become a term that is related to the affiliation that a group of people have with one another that is making them a family.
At Rockford University, there is a very special family. One that is built around a love of a sport, but also around the desire to serve one another and to push each other to a higher level of performance each week. It is a philosophy that has been established by Head Football Coach Jim Schroeder, and now has the Regents on the pathway toward great success because of this commitment to the principle of FAMILY.
The Roots of the FAMILY
Jim Schroeder came to Rockford University in December 2014. He had been the defensive coordinator at Benedictine University, a fellow Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) school, where the team had huge success under his tutelage.
Coach Schroeder had spent 10 years at Benedictine where the Eagles consistently were among the leaders in the NACC in several defensive categories. This included 2014, when the team was tops in the conference in pass defense and 2013 when they were first in scoring and total defense. In his final six seasons, the Eagles ranked in the top 50 in the country in defense, including 2011, when they were ranked 11th in total defense and 2015 when they were 15th in the category.
The Coach had done all he could to prove that he was a true talent among assistant coaches, and was looking for an opportunity to prove himself as a head coach. That opportunity came when Rockford University offered to make him the sixth head football coach in school history in December of 2014. The Coach saw the opportunity as the perfect situation for him.
“The potential for success here really drew me. The impression that I have when I interviewed for the position was that the potential for success was there. While our record isn’t anywhere near where we want it to be, we have definitely improved significantly from a competition standpoint. I think we have a good core group of guys, and I think that there is a lot of similarities between here and Benedictine and it takes time to build something. It’s a really similar arc to what we’re working on here in comparison to what we had at Benedictine.”
Creating a FAMILY Atmosphere
When Jim Schroeder became the head coach of the Regents, he was looking to do a lot more than teach the Xs and Os. He wanted a program where teenage boys came to Rockford and learned to be men who would become great dads, husbands, employees, managers, and community members one day. This started with a commitment to FAMILY as the foundation of the program.
“We preach that one of the core values here is FAMILY, an acronym that we use and we talk about faith and attitude and effort and things like that, but the biggest thing is about the experience. I want them to be men who can be proud of who they are.”
If this model was going to be successful, he knew he had to have assistant coaches that not only bought into the foundation, but who also could inspire young men. He wanted coaches who were FAMILY oriented as well.
“I’m really fortunate that I have great staff here, a lot of younger, energetic guys. While they’re younger, they’re still really mature beyond their years. These are guys who have been through the wars with us as we have built the program at Benedictine and I think that experience has really helped us to build a solid foundation here. There are a lot of guys here that were part of the first NACC championship there a Benedictine and I think that experience has been big. Part of it is their charisma; they’re the kind of people that you like to be around.”
Foundation Built on Faith
To Jim Schroeder, his football family has become about much more than football. While he wants his team to have success on the field, he is more dedicated to producing young men of character. This starts with a dedication to faith.
“We ask our guys obviously to practice their faith. Faith is their personal relationship with whomever they choose to believe and stuff like that. We want them to wear that on their sleeve.”
While not pushing his own faith on the players, he does want them to pursue their own spiritual side, and has made this a foundational principle of the program to help accomplish that goal.
“I don’t want to be somebody who pushes my faith onto someone. We talk a lot about in the preseason exploring because you have to find out what’s the right thing for you. That is what is a great thing about Rockford University is that it is a very diverse environment so you have kids from all different backgrounds. We just try to give guys the opportunity to pursue their faith. We believe that you’ve got to develop a relationship with God and find out what is the best choice for you.”
Attitude Is a World Changer
While many factors can go into a team’s success on the football field or a person’s individual success in life, Jim Schroeder understands that there are only two things that a person can do that will enable them to succeed.
“We talk a lot about the two things that you can control, your attitude and your effort. I think this is what helps them when they leave our program is that their attitude and effort are really the only two things that you can control in life and we want them to give great effort and to have a positive attitude, because ultimately these are the things that make for the most successful people in the world.”
That kind of effort and attitude extends far beyond the football field. His expectation is the every player who wears the Regents uniform is not only going to reach their athletic goals, but their academic and personal maturation ones as well.
“No. 1 is that we expect our players to graduate. We know that everybody wants to win, but at the end of Saturday not everybody is going to win. We want them to have a good experience. I do feel confident that I think the great thing about this game is that there are good times and there are bad times and that you can learn from both of those things. I think the expectation is that we provide them with the best experience possible, and at the same time they develop the skills to be successful, not only on the football field but, more importantly, when they leave. We want them to be better husbands, to be better fathers, to be a better person, to be successful in whatever career they choose to go into.”
Being Mentally Prepared for Life’s Challenges
There may be no more taxing sport on a person mentally than football. Not only do you have to be able to read the 1000 different things that could go on during any play, and make the correct choice as to how to react, but the physical pounding can be taxing on a player psychologically as well. Jim Schroeder is teaching his players to not only be able to endure the challenges that come with playing football, but also to be mentally tough for what life throws at them.
“Mental toughness, that’s what’s great about our game, it’s a tough game. You’re going to get knocked down every week, whether you win or you lose, and it’s really important about how you respond. That’s what we want to teach our kids is how to respond to adversity.”
This is one area where he feels it is essential to be a difference maker with his players. The truth is that parents are entrusting their children with the Coach to help their sons to become mature young men who can have success from the moment they step on campus until the day they die. This is an awesome responsibility and this is why he wants his players to have fun, but to also know what it takes to succeed in all aspects of their lives.
“I think one of the biggest jobs of the head coach is to set the standard from an effort and execution standpoint. We definitely do that, but I like to joke around a lot. I want this to be fun for the kids. They’re investing a lot, both financially and from a time standpoint, so we want to have fun. We also want them to push to reach the next level in whatever they do.”
Integrity Is More Than Just a Word
We live in an age where colleges and universities regularly skirt the rules, if not outright break them, so that they can have success on the field, court, or rink. They don’t care about teaching that honesty and integrity are important, but Jim Schroeder is having none of that kind of thinking in his program.
“Integrity is very important. We want our kids to exhibit honesty and respect in everything that they do. When you have integrity we want them to see that you are the kind of person that people will want to be around.”
It is for this reason, that he finds Division-III to be the perfect level to coach at.
“I think at the Division-III level it’s more rewarding because we don’t always get as much of a finished product. I think at the higher level it’s cookie-cutter. A guy has to be a certain size, a certain 40. We can kind of build people. That’s what’s great about our level and what makes football so special is that it’s not just about competing and how they love the game, but you can get some guys who aren’t the best players in their high school program and develop those guys, especially with the bigger guys up front. It’s fun to develop kids and thus the whole focus of our program is helping guys to maximize their potential, on the field, in the classroom, and personally in their social life as well.”
Love What You Do
Jim Schroeder got into coaching because he loves football. Sports has always been a big part of his family’s history, and this is why coaching became the ideal pathway for him to follow, even becoming a calling.
“I always kind of loved the game. I grew up in an athletic family where sports was a big priority. My dad, ironically, played football and wrestled at one of our rivals in the conference at Concordia Wisconsin. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do and wound up playing football at Valparaiso. I had always planned on teaching and then just decided that not leaving the game was the biggest thing. I think God had a plan for me and that led to opportunities and here I am today. I think the biggest thing was that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to coach but I jumped at an opportunity and ultimately fell in love with it.”
It is the love of the sport that drives these kids to play Division-III football as well. There are no scholarship athletes at Rockford, not for athletics at least, so, they are playing solely for the love of the game.
“Love for the game is so important. That’s really the biggest thing that we look for is because that’s what’s special about the Division-III level. We want our roster to be comprised of young men who truly love the game and love to compete because those are the people that have the best opportunity to matriculate.”
What Are You Doing for Your Own Success
At the end of the day, only one person is ensuring that he or she is having success in athletics, in the classroom, or in life in general. That is you. You are the one who determines how far you will go, and Coach Jim Schroeder wants his players to see that part of being a good family member is to do all you can to reach your potential.
“It’s about you, we want to help you to reach your full potential both on the field and off because, ultimately, you are the only one who can make you a success.”
There has been no better role model of this than Coach Schroeder himself. He has not only pushed himself to be a better coach, husband, and dad, but is thankful that he has a very special person in his life to push him toward greater heights.
“I get a lot of support from my wife and for my family. Theresa is awesome. She is definitely the brains of our outfit. She’s awesome, not just from a supportive way, but is also my harshest critic, and I need that. She’s not a football person, she was a soccer player growing up, but she’s a competitor. I don’t know who’s more competitive, her or me. She’s going to give it to you straight and I need that for sure.”
A FAMILY Effort Leading toward a Brighter Future
In his third year at Rockford University, the results for the Regents have been mixed. The team is 5-24 in that span, but is a very young team, and one that is growing with their coach and he with them. For those who are concerned, don’t be. Jim Schroeder has been successful wherever he has gone, and there is no doubt that he will turn the Regents into a winner as well. After all, he has a great FAMILY to help make that a reality.
By Robert Pannier