It was the fall of 2013 when he first set foot on the George Fox campus to quarterback the newly relaunched football program. And yet, four and a half years on, Grant Schroeder vividly recalls coach Chris Casey’s vision for what the Bruins would become.

“He painted the vision for the program from day one,” Schroeder says. “He told us we were going to play at a championship level, that we were going to play to excellence, no matter what.”

“We were going to play to excellence, no matter what.”

Understandably, it took some time for Casey’s seeds of encouragement to produce fruit in the form of winning games. But enduring hardship early on motivated Schroeder and his teammates. “It kept us hungry,” he says. “It kept us humble.”

Schroeder was one of 77 George Fox players who joined the team for a “zero year” – a full season of practice without the prospect of a single game. The following fall, Schroeder and the Bruins lost all but one game. “That was one of the most frustrating seasons of football I’ve had in my life,” he recalls. “I came from a program in high school where I lost five games in four years. Expecting to win was what I believed. That was the toughest year because there was a lot of unrewarded hard work.”

The first breakout moment of his football career came in the 2011 Oregon Class 3A high school playoffs. As a junior starting quarterback for Santiam Christian High School, Schroeder led his team to a title and was later named an all-state quarterback, an honor he earned again in 2012. He would go on to earn numerous accolades throughout his high school career, in football and other sports.

As high school graduation drew near in the spring of 2013, football recruiters from most of the Northwest Conference schools, as well as some Division II institutions, came knocking. Schroeder had his pick among celebrated, well-established programs. And yet, he found himself that fall with the inexperienced, unproven Bruins facing the prospect of going an entire year before he could play a single down against another college team. “I still remember the smell of the grass and just the excitement of starting something new,” he says.

Football had not been played at George Fox in 45 years – not since the sport was discontinued after the 1968 season. For years rumors persisted that the school might bring the sport back, but it wasn’t until the university’s board of trustees voted to reinstate the sport in 2010 that its return was made official.

Once the decision was finalized, finding a head coach to take the reins of the program was paramount. Ultimately, Casey – the acclaimed head coach for Aloha High School who led the Warriors to a Class 6A state championship in 2010 after snapping a 22-year postseason drought the year before – was hired from a national pool of candidates and announced as George Fox’s new head coach in 2012.

Casey focused on recruiting talented players to lay a solid foundation for the program. One such recruit was Schroeder. It was the potential to build something extraordinary under Casey’s direction that drew him to George Fox over other, more established programs.

Inspired by Casey’s emphasis on blue-collar effort, Schroeder and company focused on improving rather than letting the first season define them. Then, in 2015, players began to see the fruits of their labor as the Bruins went 4-6. In 2016, George Fox won more games than it lost. “When we went 5-4 and had our first winning record, everyone said, ‘Oh, that’s awesome,’” Schroeder recalls. “But guys weren’t satisfied. That’s why we’ve continued to grow as a program. We’re never complacent.”

Inspired to make his final season, 2017, his best yet, Schroeder led the team to its best record in program history (7-3) and recognition in the NCAA Division III top-25 rankings for the first time. Along the way, the Bruins knocked off nationally ranked opponents Whitworth University and the University of Redlands and, in October, established school records for most points scored in a single game (58) and largest margin of victory (46 points) in a win over Willamette. Later the same month, a win over Lewis & Clark College set the program record for most wins in a single season, which the Bruins improved upon two weeks later with a final-game victory over the University of Puget Sound.

Individually, Schroeder concluded his career as the school’s all-time record-holder in every passing category, finishing with 7,015 passing yards for a career average of 184.6 yards per game. He also had 77 total touchdowns during his tenure, 21 of which he ran in himself.

This season, Schroeder passed or rushed for 28 touchdowns – tops in the Northwest Conference – to earn a spot on the NWC’s second team. He was also a winner in the classroom, posting a 3.78 GPA as a civil engineering major to land on the 2017 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District Football Team, joining teammate Caleb Dalzell as the first George Fox football players to earn the honor.

While Schroeder’s college football career didn’t include trips to the playoffs or championship rings, the legacy he and the zero-year athletes will leave behind is far grander – one of sacrifice, integrity, service and perseverance.

“I think George Fox football is everything it was meant to be when the vision was created for bringing football back,” Schroeder says. “People have really seen over the last four years what kind of first-class program this is. There were so many times I stopped this season and just said, ‘I am so blessed to be here.’”