It’s no secret that Hope College is home to a phenomenal football program. While the Dutchmen may be a reckoning force today, the team has come a long way since their initial exhibition in 1908. Their very first game, played against Benton Harbor College, resulted in a 54-0 loss, and the team continued to rank low in comparison to other institutions for the following several years. It wasn’t until Ray Smith assumed the position of head coach in 1970 that Hope College’s Football team would truly earn their name, leading the team to nine MIAA championships and laying the foundation for the Dutchmens’ success today. Throughout their 110 season history, the team has racked up nearly 300 wins since its inception. In addition to their 300 win record, the team has also been the victors of 21 MIAA Championships—this year making 22.
The Flying Dutchmen played their final game of the season this past Saturday, November 13, at the Fred Zollner Athletic stadium located on Trine University’s campus. Following their loss at Albion, coaches expressed concern about the team’s spirits as they faced Trine. However, after a long fight in the freezing temperatures, Hope proved resilient once again and came out on top with a final score of 17-13, an MIAA record of 5-1 and an overall 8-2 record to conclude their 2021-22 fall season, securing the championship. Many players also boasted impressive plays or achieved career-highs while playing Trine. Elijah Smith (’24), a running back, was able to break his personal record, ending with 204 yards and 33 carries, and was responsible for earning 46 of 58 rushing yards. Similar to Smith, quarterback Chance Strickland, (’25) accounted for 22 yards, four carries, and even scored for Hope. Hope’s defense was also performing at their peak, preventing Trine from pulling ahead and only granting them one lonesome first down in an interception turnover of the second half.
Impressively, Hope football has been able to maintain their skill and talent despite the COVID-19 pandemic, even taking a gap year and returning to play just as fierce and strong as they were before—a struggle that many Division III teams have not been able to overcome this year. With several 2020 seniors opting to forego graduation and return to experience a proper final season and the introduction of many freshman recruits, the team was able to kick off the year just as strong as before. In addition to their quarantine struggles, the team also suffered many injuries throughout this season, resulting in a limited number of eligible players by the final few games of the season. The team was able to overcome this adversity, as demonstrated by the prime example of Smith, who was put into play following his teammates’ injuries and proved himself just as capable and valuable as his upperclassmen teammates.
Aside from their recent triumph, earned no doubt from their hard work and intense commitment, no team would get far without bonding experiences. While many of the athletes form connections simply through attending long practices and traveling to games together, the leisurely activities that occur afterward are what really make the athletes go from being “just teammates” to feeling like a family. The program encourages these connections by implementing a system called “Council Groups.” Council groups consist of 10 players each plus an upperclassman leader. These council groups allow for teammates to form close-knit friendships within the team and offer a more sustainable and available support system to the athletes. The team also gets to relax and bond through activities such as hosting dinners, going to the beach to kick back, and even occasionally going out and treating themselves to some much-deserved ice cream. More recently, the boys traveled all the way to the well-known Kinnick Stadium where the Iowa Hawkeyes play, given the opportunity to do a team run-through on the famous field. These experiences, as well as sharing the highs of amazing wins and the lows of devastating losses create an environment that fosters community, and fuels the athletes to always perform their best as one.
Although Hope was able to bring home with them a trophy and championship rings, a recent update provided by the NCAA announced that Albion was granted automatic qualification to participate in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Due to their loss against Albion, the Dutchmen share their title with the Britons, and upon selection of the NCAA, unfortunately, did not receive any Pool B or Pool C bids. Despite this, a championship is still a championship, and coaches, players, and athletic staff are still ecstatic about their victory, and more than satisfied with their performance at their final game of the season. While in Angola, the Dutchman truly left it all on the field and received the recognition and celebration they worked immensely to earn.
Miss the big game? No worries! Highlights, recaps, photos, video clips and much much more can be found on Hope College’s Instagram and Twitter accounts at
Or on the Hope College Athletics page at https://athletics.hope.edu/sports/fball/index#