Transcript: Orange and Blue Podcast with Football Coach Peter Stuursma

Alan Babbitt [00:00:04] Welcome to the Hope College Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast. My name is Alan Babbitt, sports information director at Hope College. I am glad to come to you each week with interviews with Hope College coaches and administrative staff and down the road student-athletes as we talk about the Orange and Blue and in this unusual time. A lot of positives going on on this campus and particularly with our athletic teams as they make the most out of an unprecedented fall, certainly one they will not forget about for a long time. With me today is head football coach Peter Stuursma. Thanks for coming today, Coach. Certainly you would ever have dreamed or expected a fall like this. Take me through with your team how you've been approaching this as you are able to gather as a team and to make the most out of this COVID-impacted fall.

Peter Stuursma [00:00:58] Thanks a lot for having me. If I may, I'll go back to when we learned about this in March. Coach (Andrew) Hawken and Coach (Mike) Ricketts and I were visiting Western Michigan University for their spring practices. We were sitting in their meetings and we vividly remember they put the schedule for the weekend. It was a big question mark. They didn't know what the weekend was going to hold. We drove back to Holland, Michigan, that day. So Thursday, that afternoon, the NCAA (basketball) tournaments canceled. The next day, things just started clicking and rolling faster and faster. The velocity of changes that occurred during that time were incredible. What I'm getting at is, since that time we've said, let's try to make decisions with what we know, the information we have in front of us.  I have 100 percent appreciated and respected our administration, led by Matt Scogin, our president, of course, our athletic director, Tim Schoonveld, our entire staff. As a staff, we just said, let's try to make decisions with the information we have. We did not start canceling football games last spring. We said, let's make decisions in June and July. Then in August. Then, of course, now we're here with the idea that we started school very early August 17th. That would have been the second week of our two-a-day practices or in our fall camp, if you will. And so what have we done? How have we adjusted? I give our guys a lot of credit for being really resilient during this very challenging time, because, you know, we always say that uncertainty creates fear. When you're uncertain about what's going to happen in the future, you start to get worried and anxious. We certainly we have, as far as the coaching staff, that uncertainty, but what we've tried to really do is plan as a way of saying we're going to worry about today, We're gonna to worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Going into a fall camp. we would have had 17 pages of detailed organizational type things in a schedule in a Google forum. That is, as you have noticed, that's our schedule at 7:30 in the morning till 10 o'clock at night with meetings and all the things and meals, when they're going to take breaks. We made a decision 'Let's worry about it week by week' because we have had to have those opportunities where we change quickly. We've had to move fields. We had to start out very slow from the standpoint of we were just in helmets and T-shirts. We were on separate fields for a few weeks. Then we were able to go on the same field, but at different times where the offense would go first and they would practice for an hour and 25minutes and the defense would come on and we'd exit the offense off the field, enter the defense on the field and to the point where we are now, where we're able to wear shells, have a practice that looks like football practice. In summary of your question, Alan, probably the biggest challenge that I feel for our guys is that you play the game of football to play for those Saturdays in the fall. I mean, it's one of the greatest traditions of our country is the pageantry of college football, but also tell you that one of the greatest things is Friday night, Friday Night Lights and the high school football as we watch them play. We're not able to play. It makes it for a challenge. We don't see that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for our players. But they're just doing a great job of trying to get acclimated to. Not only I think this helps the freshmen, they're acclimating themselves as student-athleteS and not just an athlete. They're acclimating themselves as a student. When it comes to football, they're able to pick up on some of the things that we're doing offensively and defensively without having that three-week, 'Oh, I better get it going right now if I want to get on this field in a quick way.' So the net result of what your question is, I think is, number one, I feel for our guys. I really do. I feel like there's times I think, you know, this is hard. This is really hard because we're practicing in football, but not playing. But yet I also know that they have some obviously wonderful opportunities to be a student-athlete here at Hope College. And, I feel for our coaches, but they're doing a great job along with our players and just, you know, we're hanging in there. And that's, I guess the best thing I could sum it up.

Alan Babbitt [00:05:02] Obviously it's tough for a lot of reasons, not having that Saturday and that special that in some of the other different alterations that have, what would you say, a positive that you've gained out of this time that you will take with you forward? What's been a boost that you maybe not would have otherwise experienced had things been normal?

Peter Stuursma [00:05:22] I would say we prior to COVID, prior to us being shut down in March, we really made a goal of ours as a staff to start recruiting the 20-21s earlier. Prior to shutting down, we had 25 to 30 visits on campus. We had a basketball game which our recruits visited and that again that was 20-21s. Then fast forward into COVID opportunities. We just decided, 'Hey, if we're going to all be in this situation, let's try to do it better than our competition.' We're involved in some 80 plus Zoom meetings. That provided us, those were not group meetings, those were individual meetings with student-athletes, parents, family members. We had a virtual tour that was led through our campus and actually narrated. I think that helps to just talk through what we're doing here. I would say that was an advantage. I would say, you know, just from a personal standpoint, I think my wife is and family members have seen more of me in the time of fall than ever before. My youngest son, Mitchell, has taken up golf. I play golf for the first time after August 1 in my entire life. My Amy will say, 'Why do you have that strange look?' I said, I didn't know what people did on Saturday in the fall. I've always coached football, whether it's, you know, playing as a player, Saturdays were filled up with workouts and things like that. Then as a coach, even at the high school level, we had Saturdays filled with meetings and lifting and things like that. And of course, being here at Hope and college football Saturdays are work days. I've never really noticed what people do. It's kind of fun to watch. That's been an advantage from a personal standpoint, I think. Sometimes my wife and kids would probably say, I don't know it's so great to have you around, Dad, with all your energy on Saturdays. But yeah, I've mowed my lawn for the first time in the fall. ... mowed my lawn for the first time in the fall. That's always been something that one of our kids has picked up. I like mowing the lawn but obviously from a time standpoint have not been able do it. So that's been a real positive. You know, I think at the end of the day, though, it's not about me as anyone. It's not about personally what I feel. I really, really want our guys to feel like, OK, we've made some progress here in the program they've made progress personally, and that we have or see or start to visualize a light at the end of the tunnel here.

Alan Babbitt [00:07:36] I would say you guys showed a lot of progress last season, an outstanding campaign capturing an MIAA championship and advancing to the NCAA playoffs. That was a goal of when you got here. That's what you wanted to do, bring back to Hope College football. Now that you're there. How is the challenge? Has it evolved or is it the same approach as when you were first started and trying to, you know, become my MIAA champion. Because each season is unique.

Peter Stuursma [00:08:05] I don't mean to correct you, but we're not there. We will never we'll be there. We've never arrived at that situation. When we took over here at Hope, I think the ultimate goal is to win a national championship and graduate every one of our players. That's always going to be our ultimate goal. We want to build young men into contributing members of society, great dads, great husbands, and doing great things in the world. And that's not going to change it. So to get to where we wanted to get to last year I mean, What I looked at as was wee had a bunch of players that decided that it was their time. They were going to compete every single day, day in and day out, practice games, what have you. It a group that was our first freshmen class. And to see that to fruition was really about them. It was about their achievements and their accomplishments. That trophy, I still haven't touched it with my bare hands and don't plan to because that was about them and a lot of assistant coaches. We talk about our staff. You look at Andrew Hawken, the offensive coordinator, or Mike Ricketts, our defensive coordinator. You have Dan Margritz, our strength and conditioning coach, Mike Lapciuk, our special teams coordinator. Then you add in all of the staff: Jim Caserta, Mike Stephan and Jake VanderVeen and Dave Geikas. And as I mentioned, Coach Margritz. New this year, Coach (Dave) Lidgard, Coach (Ted) Manning. These guys do great things for players not only on the field, but off of the field. They really, truly connect with them. And then, you know, I always feel like a part of our staff is our athletic trainers - Tim Koberna and Salvador (Robles-Soriano) and I couldn't imagine Gord (VanderYacht) and our managers, Joey (Vespaziani). We can't have our entire staff together. We're missing (Rob Sterken and Andrew Tysse), our managers, and filmers and clock operators during breaks because we've had to just close down our organization from a bubble standpoint. To answer your question truly, Alan, if that was a great accomplishment for our players, it was a great shot in the arm for our program and for Hope College. But there's a lot more to accomplish here. And if you recall, Wartburg handled us pretty well in that game, one of the 32 teams that were left competing for a national championship. And they beat us fair and square. They beat us. They outcoached us to start with. They beat us physically. They were better prepared. We look at our national player candidate Mason Opple. They had a lot of Mason Opples. Our guys had a valiant effort, a great effort. But that's just a stepping stone. I think you talk to our guys who graduated last year, they'd say, 'OK, that's great, where are we going now?' That's always that constant improvement, I think, that we seek day in and day out in this program that, as long as I'm here, that's what we're going look to do, is improve every single day, improve every single day and say, you know, we've been given a great opportunity to improve today. I would say in particular, with COVID Alan, we've really had to learn to worry about today because we can plan and be incredibly proactive about what's going on, but tomorrow might. Change and today might change. That's what we're focused on. As a staff this morning, we talked about that. How can we improve today at practice? How can we up the ante, up the energy level, up the competition level? That's our focus now., always we'll be. We're proud of our players and our coaches, but there's a lot more to be accomplished here with Hope College football.

Alan Babbitt [00:11:31] Does it help to have you know, obviously, as you say, things can change, but right now there is a plan in place and a schedule that you look at and, you know, against MIAA teams that you'd love to go 5-0, 1-0 each week. Talk about the spring and how you're building toward that? What you hope to get out of that experience? Again, it won't be the fall, but it's still a chance to compete against MIAA schools and prepare yourselves for next fall?

Peter Stuursma [00:12:01] I laugh with our players because, of course, one of the best NBA players in the world, Allen Iverson, said 'We're talking about practice.' Well, a lot of ways that's what we are talking about, because the NCAA has given us 114 days of competition. When I say competition of the opportunity for us to be together during the 2020-21 school year. That's practice. That's weight training in season. That's competition games in the spring. What we're trying to do is balance that out. So, you know, we're going to hit that 40,45 opportunities here this fall with the idea that with that when we leave here after Thanksgiving, our players are done with final exams. They go into that offseason conditioning program. That is the sole purpose to come back ready to roll in January. And then we have a finite amount of time to get prepared for our March 19th, 20th opener of five games. To have that out there, of course, is refreshing. Even in this fall we have had some things that I think everybody could say, OK, we're getting a little bit of an opening here. We see a little bit of an opportunity. I don't mean a crack. I mean an opportunity where we're starting to feel like we're normally practicing. When you see our players put their shoulder pads on, we don't have full pads on we're just going shells, that's kind of fun to watch. And you hear a little bit of a crack of the pad. You're like, OK, you know, that's nice. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that the way our college, again, led by Matt Scogin our president, and our team of five that have led this this this entire COVID really response from our college right down to the athletic trainers, our doctors and the Ottawa County Health Department. We have been working in lockstep day in and day out. Are we doing the right things? Are we monitoring the right things? Are there things that we can evaluate change for the better? It's not just like, oh, we just hope like it works. No, they really are making sure that it works. We're not perfect by any stretch. But I would tell you that I know I've read a lot of articles about schools are doing it. Well, I'm pressed to find one that's doing it as well as what Hope College is from an overall management of our students and student-athletes on this campus. That doesn't mean we don't have things we can't get better. And that doesn't mean there aren't things that you're looking at (like) why are we doing that? No, I think all in all, you can give that a high mark to how we're doing it. So in saying that, you do get a hint of what's happening and what's going on. At the end of day we don't generate 100 dollars like the Big Ten doesn't football for each school. We were one of the last leagues in the United States to play Division III football that ended our season. I give, again, our league, our league and the presidents, we were trying to hang on. But it just became very apparent and evident that it was not going to happen so to have a plan in place and get ready to roll and hopefully we can make that spring an awesome opportunity for our players. And, of course, with our seniors, we have a number of our guys that have already said we're coming back. We're not going to mess with their eligibility. the NCAA has said that's going to be the case by playing 50 percent of the season at this point.

Alan Babbitt [00:15:08] Another sign of the excitement that surrounds this program, the recent announcement of the donation from Jim and Eileen Heeringa for a new locker room building that Ray and Sue Smith stadium, pending approval from our Board of Trustees. An exciting announcement and a wonderful generosity that'll be used not only by the football program, but several teams as well. I know you've been involved with that. What does Heeringa's generosity mean to you and this football program?

Peter Stuursma [00:15:45] Alan, that's a hard question to answer. It's an easy question to answer, but it's a challenging one from this sense. It's just still unbelievable. It's just really mind-boggling to think that a family can just you just be so generous and just so unbelievably giving and caring for an institution like Hope College. To sit with Jim and Eileen on so many occasions, just talk with them about what they're about and what their passion in life is about and the things that they're so much about, so caring. I'm just so honored and humbled and privileged to be a part of that, I think what it has what has come of that, of course, pending the Board of Trustees approval on this project. What has resonated from that was the opportunity to connect with many people from an alumni standpoint. To really be on the ground floor of this thing, it's an opportunity for our student-athletes to have something that's right there that's going to be state of the art, that's going to be 15 feet from our field, where not only our student-athletes and coaches and athletic training staff and equipment staff can all call home, but something that we can, you know, as a student body and as a college can really be a gem on campus. As you and I walk around this campus, we look around and can talk about the bricks and mortar, but at the end of the day it's about the people and about the memories that are created within those facilities. To have a facility that's going to be the Hope way, the Hope tradition, the Hope sign of excellence and the things that it's going to provide, to me, is really neat. If all things go as planned, you're going to see some things happening very, very quickly here this fall. This will impact generations to come. But just when you talk about Jim and Eileen, what that family has meant to us, the Heeringa name, it's a name you see around town hall, the civic center. You see that tennis facility. You know that it's a really, really neat connection. It not only connects their family with college, but it connects the college with their family and the greater community of Holland, their care for student-athletes.

Alan Babbitt [00:18:13] I would be remiss not to mention that part of that donation to help our dance department and upgrade the offerings there as well in addition to athletics or say a big thank you to the Heeringa goes for that donation. I know Hope College obviously has a special place in your heart, Peter, as you were a student-athlete here and then I know I've been coaching as an assistant, then went on to a successful high school coaching career at East Grand Rapids, then returning to your alma later at Hope. You're taking on a little bit a different role this year. This is the first year you're going to have two children as students here and also one student-athlete. Your son, Robby, will be playing baseball for Stu Fritz for the Flying Dutchmen. Your daughter Hannah is a junior in her junior year at Hope. How has that impacted to be a dad on top of being a coach? Because those are two totally separate things. There are similarities, but there's a lot of differences between those two responsibilities for sure.

Peter Stuursma [00:19:03] I'll start with Hannah. Hannah is a junior. Certainly this is very, very different, different than she would have ever expected. And, of course, you know, what we've learned through this, Alan, is this is really challenging for upperclassmen because they know what Hope is about. They know what it's like. And to go through this COVID thing that we're going through right now. It's not what you know, it's not what we want. It's not what we see any of us signed up for. But, they're very resilient. She's very resilient. It's been really great to see her go through that journey to figure out where she wants to go and what she wants to do. She has just absolutely loved Hope for what it has been able to offer her. She was a student-athlete in high school and just decided she did not want to play in college. To be honest with you, as a dad, I was totally fine with that because I know the commitment level it takes to play college sports. And it's really she would be the one getting up at those early times if she was a tennis player to go hit tennis balls. She'd be the one traveling to tennis tournaments. I really felt at peace with the fact that that decision was about her and what she wanted to do with that. And then fast forward, of course, to this year as Robbie Stuursma is entering into a freshman year here and honored and privileged, he could play the game he loves, the game of baseball and play for a dear friend in Stu Fritz. I was on the student committee as a student-athlete here that hired Stu Fritz as baseball coach. And so, obviously, we've had a long connection with Stu. Yet I also know, Stu and I have talked about this, at the end of day, he's going to play the best nine on the team, the best nine in the program. He is going to pick the best pitchers. He's going to bring the best relievers and he's going play the best. Robbie understands that this is college baseball and college sports, but it's awful nice to be able to have, I can hear the bats hitting the balls out there. We're practicing, then all of a sudden I see the team leave and Robbie walks by and waves. That's neat. I also am very, very conscious of the fact that I want this experience to be about them, to have their experience and to have their four years of college be theirs, not mine. I've already done that. Amy and I have already gone through our college days. Wish we were a lot younger to go back and do it again. But, you know, it's there. It's their experience. They have to find their niche and they have to find the things that are positive and negative and have to learn from the things that don't go well and the choices and the decisions and all the things that go with it. It's theirs. We have to let them kind of fly and as they say, be free and enjoy that college experience. I've met so many people say how lucky you are. You did that. You get to go to work every day on to a campus, that your kids go to school. And I say, I feel very lucky, but yet I also don't stop by and see me every day. They don't stop by and see me every day. But there's just that time and all of a and I'll get a text like, Hey, Dad, want to go to lunch? I'm like, yep, we're going. And I've told I've joked with Matt Scogin. I'm like, I might have a meeting with you as the president, but if my son or daughter calls to go to lunch, I'm out. He kind of laughed. But it's just the way I feel about it. It's just very lucky. But I also feel like they need to have that opportunity to enjoy the college experience from their perspective.

Alan Babbitt [00:22:05] President Scogin probably recognizes that; it's going to coming for hi too with three kids himself.  It'll be fun to watch him as he continues to lead the college and has that family life continue to build.  I would be curious about with your role and your lens right now as a dad on your recruiting. I imagine you have a pretty unique and crystal focus on what a parent is thinking right now as they are trying to help their child decide whether they want to go and invest the next four or five years of their lives. How has being a dad right now of college-aged students impacted or altered as far as your recruiting?

Peter Stuursma [00:22:49] First of all, I, as a parent, as a dad, I have a perspective. I don't have the answers. I only have a perspective. When I was a middle school principal, I used to talk to parents a lot about what it's like with their kids at school and how much fun it is to be around them. But I also wanted to make sure that I was never going to, I'm not giving parenting lessons. I'm not going to give any type of lessons. All I would do is take a perspective. But the perspective has been interesting for me to watch and observe certainly as I get older, I think part of that's just with experience. But watching my son go through the process from a baseball standpoint, watch Hannah go through the process, our daughter, when it comes to tennis, then our youngest son, Mitchell, is, he's really started to enjoy the game of golf. He still plays on the hockey team there and he's really enjoying the game of golf. To watch that has been very unique. I guess what it does, it makes me take a step back and realize this. It still is, at the end of the day, parents are sending their student-athletes and in this case, football, to us and they're entrusting us to take care of their sons. I guess one of the most powerful statements I can make to a parent is that I'm going to take good care of your son. If he skins his knee, I'm going to put a Band-Aid on it. If he gets tripped up or falls up or makes a mistake, we're going to help him work through it. If it gets hard, I will tell him to pick himself up and get going again because I think that's life. That's what I want for coaches and mentors and professors to do with our children. I think I think so many parents out there just want their son or daughter to have a great experience. They want him to be treated fairly. They want him to be pushed. They want him to be motivated. They want to know that someone cares. They want to know that they're going to put their arm around, say, I love you, then let's get going. We have a job to do. That we have balance, that we teach the right things, that we show the things that are important. Our family is important. It's important to me. I know it's important to so many of our guys. I also know that and the things that we are going through in our society around us, we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do in building our team and building the culture of our team so everybody has a voice and everybody has a place to stand. We have to be great listeners. That's something I've really, really challenged myself on, is to be a better listener. Don't try to answer that question before they've really, truly asked it. There are some things. If you ask me, Peter, do you have stop at the stop sign? Yes. You need to stop at the stop sign. I think we know that. But I need to be a better listener. I need to make sure that our student-athletes have a voice. We need to make sure that we're doing things with this time that we have. It's a little bit different than a normal fall. It's making sure that we are seeing our guys in a different perspective and that they are taking care of their studies. One of the things we pride ourselves on a weekend in a given fall, 96 percent of our student-athletes stay on campus. Well, during the time that we're in now, I don't think we're at that high level. I don't know, I don't have any research to support it, but I think we've got to continue to find ways to have our students and our student athletes engaged in what we're doing on campus. That's challenging because we can't get everybody together at once. We haven't been able to have team meetings. We can do Zoom. We can do our meetings in the stadium. We can do our practices and things of that nature. But really sitting down and in a meeting in person, which I'm such a big proponent in, we haven't been able to do that. Alan, you were a guest speaker of our team on every single year. We'd bring in business leaders. We bring in coaches, other mentors, pastors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, you name. We'd bring in so many different perspectives because I believe in the perspective of our students and gaining that perspective as they as I believe that's such a part of our entire experience here at Hope College. That's given me as a parent a perspective when we have student-athletes. I think at the end of the day, parents want to know that their son will be treated fairly and with respect and that away from them, they're going to have people I love up on him and push him to be the very best that they can.

Alan Babbitt [00:26:52] Obviously, the game of football and coaching football means a lot to you. Investing and giving back to the game, you do a lot of that with the American Football Coaches Association. Talk about your role with the AFCA and how you see that role, helping everyone, every football team manage these challenging times.

Peter Stuursma [00:27:11] I've served on a number of committees throughout those. I was on the All-America Committee that chose your All-American Teams and been on the head coaches committee and things of that nature for Division III. What I've learned is that there are so many differences in Division III and there is, of course, so many similarities. Like, for example, you take Division I, BCS schools, they're pretty much offering the same thing, full scholarship, play on Saturdays in front of a million people and, you know, on TV. And then, of course, sold-out stadiums and state of the art facilities. Division II is not always that same thing. You might be playing in a different region of the country, but with different fan bases. You might be playing some have streaming games, some aren't. Some have radio stations all over, some don't. Some you have significantly larger stadiums than others. Some have different financial aid packages, though we all can't offer athletic scholarships. There are very different financial perspectives. That's been a really neat learning opportunity. I've also learned that there are some incredibly talented coaches out there and some incredibly talented student-athletes that play Division III football. When you look at if you were to come out and look at our offensive line right now, our right tackle is 6-8, 295. Our left tackle is 6-5, 312. Up front they go 260 to 280. Those are big, strong, fast, tough dudes. I've learned that, call it what you want, it's college football. I have been able to gain that perspective. What's been really helpful is this past since COVID has really kicked in, there's been a group of about 25 of us that I've met a few times a month during this time on Wednesdays to really talk about ideas, to talk about things that are going on. I knew coming into late July, I saw some things going the wrong way when it came to the numbers of Division II schools that were dropping. In a lot of ways it was due to the testing that was going to be suggested, not mandated, but suggested. Testing is expensive. But that's where I will tip my hat to Hope College. They have just put the students and the student-athletes first to give them the very best opportunity to compete. When Matt Scogin said, you know what, we will take care of the testing, we'll make sure that it happens, you just can't help but take a step back and say that is what Hope College is about. They've made a commitment to our guys. What we're doing with the testing of our sewage water in dorms and things of that nature to the surveillance testing of our student population every single day to our student-athlete surveillance testing. They're putting their money where their mouth is. And I just again, I tip my hat. I know it just sounds so cliche, but it's just that needs to be recognized and realized that our college is giving our kids and our student-athletes the very best opportunity to compete. I feel like the work that the (AFCA) national committees do gives us a great way to look and say, OK, we're doing it well or, hey, have we thought of this? To be able to bounce ideas and use them as a sounding board as has been really phenomenal.

Alan Babbitt [00:30:23] Thank you, Peter. Good luck the rest of this semester. I look forward to watching you guys compete in the spring.

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