The games are a moment in time, but the relationships last a lifetime for members of the Valparaiso University football program.
Head coach Landon Fox has introduced an Older Brother initiative to connect current seniors to alumni. The Older Brother element comes in addition to continuing the program’s Big Brother/Little Brother initiative, which pairs freshmen with upperclassmen.
“Our program is about relationships, and it’s about people,” Fox said. “When a student-athlete makes a commitment to come to Valparaiso University, we start establishing those relationships. Their big brother is going to ask them questions, and those questions are usually going to have some emotion to them. When freshmen come to campus, there is always an adjustment period. When you’ve already built that meaningful bond, it’s going to mean a lot and carry a lot of weight if you hear something from an upperclassman.”
“The idea for the Older Brother Program came from Valpo producing very successful students and placing them in their chosen career paths,” Fox said. “For me as the head coach, it’s about how you say thank you to your seniors for all they’ve done for your program. It’s a way to engage the alumni and to say thanks to our seniors by providing them with contacts in their chosen career paths that can lead them to opportunities upon graduation. It isn’t just a four-year degree, it’s a 40-year degree. Those connections are going to provide our seniors with meaningful opportunities. It’s a good way for our alumni to stay connected to the football program and the University. They feel good about helping us and creating opportunities for our student-athletes. It’s a win-win on both sides.”
The Older Brother pairings have provided student-athletes with the opportunity to connect with alums who have gone through the program. Current senior Cade Bishop (Lafayette, Ind. / William Henry Harrison) is paired with David Heffernan, who played for the Brown & Gold in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“It’s been awesome to get insight from an alum from that time period,” Bishop said. “We’ve talked on the phone a few times and we text quite often. We get along great. It’s been awesome to not only hear about his experiences at Valpo, but to hear about some of his life experiences. That’s been an invaluable asset for me.”
Bishop has engaged in conversations with Heffernan about an internship in data analysis with Heffernan’s agency for truck drivers, one example of how the Older Brother initiative has opened doors for internship and career opportunities. Conversations between Heffernan and Bishop have also allowed the two to compare and contrast their Valpo experiences during two different eras.
“The friendships and connections I’ve built through the Valpo football program over the last three and a half years are invaluable,” Bishop said. “That’s something that David talks about and Coach Fox talks about as well. You’re not going to remember all your stats, but you’re going to remember the friendships you’ve made. David was a part of a conference championship when he played here, and he’s still connected to the program all these years later. Hearing the way David talks about the program now makes me want to stay connected in the future as well.”
Senior Carter Puckett (LaPorte, Ind. / LaPorte) has enjoyed developing a relationship with his older brother Matt Schroll, who was a senior during the 2012 season.
“Before Coach Fox introduced the Older Brother program, I had never even thought about how important or worthwhile it could be to know and connect with older alumni,” Puckett said. “Matt and I talk every week, and that conversation goes beyond football. He’ll ask me about my personal life and talk about his family members and what he’s doing at work. He’ll ask me about internships and school. Getting to know Matt has been a very positive experience.”
The conversations with Schroll have opened doors for Puckett with regard to potential internships, while also providing a weekly escape from the stresses the come with the academic and athletic demands of being a Division-I student-athlete.
“This is an important opportunity to be social, especially during the pandemic,” Puckett said. “Being able to connect with past generations is an important part of this program. It’s rare to be a part of a program where they want to develop you beyond your time as a football player. Coach Fox stresses that we will forever be linked to this University and this football program. The Older Brother initiative has made a significant impact in terms of bringing everyone together.”
Senior Trejuan Purty (Maryville, Tenn. / Maryville [East Tennessee State]) is paired with Denzel Conway, whose final season at Valpo was the 2016 campaign.
“It’s been great to talk about life and talk about his experience at Valpo,” Purty said. “It’s good to see that alumni still care about the program and want to see it do well. Denzel had an enjoyable time and made the most of his Valpo experience. It’s motivating to see how much alumni care about how we’re doing, and it motivates us to want to make them proud on the field.”
In addition to the alumni connections established through the Older Brother initiative, the Big Brother/Little Brother program has continued to effectively integrate newcomers with returning student-athletes.
“Coming into college, I didn’t think the upperclassmen would want to be friends with the freshmen,” freshman Luke Patterson (Valparaiso, Ind. / Valparaiso) said. “The system really helped the upperclassmen get to know us. The big brother/little brother system makes us all closer as a team. It’s one of the best things Coach Fox has done to make us closer as a unit. I spend time with a lot of the upperclassmen, and we’ve all become close friends.”
Freshman Keyon Turner (Chicago, Ill. / Marist) echoed Patterson’s opinion of the unity amongst upperclassmen and rookies.
“I like the intensity from the upperclassmen and the way they push us to work harder,” Turner said. “They help remind us to always be on our ‘A’ game. Our big brothers in the program have helped us get comfortable around campus and around town. It’s been important to have that relationship with upperclassmen while we’re adapting to college.”