Dr. Rob Van Engen has seen Liberty football explode
You can take the professor out of football, but you can’t take football out of the professor. The year was 1980, and Robert Van Engen was a freshman at Liberty University.
“I was excited to come to Liberty because I could play football and become a pastor. Not many schools offered that back in the early 80s,” Van Engen said. “I was a wide receiver/kick and punt returner, and I wore number four. It was cool because my wife’s number on the LU softball team was four as well.”
When Van Engen played football, Williams Stadium did not exist and the Flames had to travel to City Stadium for their home games.
“City Stadium was small compared to my high school field. It was a different home field because fans had to travel from the island dorms or the hotel downtown or the campus to get to the games. The atmosphere was good and it seemed to me like the fans enjoyed the games. I didn’t play much because I was a first year student,” Van Engen said.
Liberty football has undergone some major changes since Van Engen played 31 years ago.
“I have witnessed multiple changes in the football program since 1980. The players are better and bigger athletes. When I played, NCAA rules were still evolving. The screening of players to make sure they are compliant is very intense,” Van Engen said. “The football team was housed in locker rooms on an island in the middle of the James River. This island also housed students in dormitories. We practiced in the middle of these buildings. Our weight room was a transformed garage as it appeared to me. The program now has excellent facilities which I believe enhances the campus.”
Flames fans no longer have to travel to City Stadium to support the team. The Liberty Flames football team has called Williams Stadium home since its completion in October 1989.
“Williams Stadium is an incredible recruiting tool, plus a fantastic place to play. The environment really provides a big game feel. With the luxury boxes and the club level seating, the fans can experience the thrill of college football. The players benefit by having a field that is not used by other teams, like City Stadium was. The surface is always the same even though weather changes. That is an advantage,” Van Engen said.
Football was not only a sport for Van Engen, it was a place of spiritual growth.
“My position coach was Kim Graham, and he offered devotions and guidance regularly. Bob Guetterman was a tight end on our team and a spiritual leader for our position. He often shared times of devotions and gave constant encouragement. These moments helped to strengthen my spiritual walk,” Van Engen said.
Being on the football team was a memorable part of Van Engen’s college experience at Liberty.
“My favorite personal football memory was playing against the University of North Carolina JV football team. The LU coaches created a varsity and a JV team my freshman year and our JV team played at UNC Chapel Hill in their stadium. It was practically empty but it was a fun experience. I got a chance to return kick offs,” Van Engen said.
Van Engen currently serves as the Assistant Director of Christian/Community Service and Assistant Professor of Contemporary Issues.