Nineteen years. That’s how long Pacific University went without football. Forest Grove, a town known for being a one high school, one college town lost something that made a community come together. The university dropped the sport in 1991 leaving a disheartened community.
In a 2010 article by The Oregonian, Pacific alum and former Boxer football assistant coach Mike McCabe spoke of the disappointment.
“The vibe on Saturday was like any other small town with a college football team, always kind of exciting. A lot of people lost that vibe,” McCabe said.
In 2009, Pacific University decided it was time to bring football back. After spending a year building the core of the program and this season marks the tenth year of Pacific University football after reinstatement.
The Boxers have accomplished impressive feats in such a short time and have grown into a strong team in the Northwest Conference. Although reinstated in 2009 the team didn’t begin their first season back until 2010. In their first year back they went 0-9.
It was a tough start to a long journey lead by Head Coach Keith Buckley. Each year the Boxers improved, eventually tying for the conference championship in 2014 going 6-1 against conference opponents.
“When we first started this thing, it was all about positively impacting the university,” Buckley said. “I believe we have, on and off the field, done a good job of positively impacting this community.”
The coach is proud of the things the program has accomplished, but even more proud of the men who have gone on to start great lives for themselves after Pacific. When facing California Lutheran University this season he had the chance to meet with many former players all doing a variety of things.
“One of the most rewarding things is seeing those guys who are no longer here and are successfully navigating the transition into life,” said Buckley. “Those are the rewarding times, when you see guys who went through those four years and are now doing the things they are supposed to do.”
“We’re also tremendously proud to have put the championship trophy in the building,” Buckley said. “To do that in a five-year span from starting the program and losing every game year one to hoisting a trophy was a pretty cool experience for all of us.” The coach is also aware of the impact the return of football has had on the surrounding community.
“It’s a big event for a small town — college football is a good community builder, providing that platform for people to gather and have a good time after a long week of work is awesome.” said Buckley. “There‘s no doubt there’s an economic impact for the community as well. On Saturdays there are people staying in hotels and eating at the restaurants in town.”
When Buckley reflected on what he wanted the Boxers to be known for when they started it was all about being competitive.
“This conference, historically in football, is a national power conference. We just wanted to create relevance in the football community in the northwest,” Buckley said. “I think we have represented that really well — we’ve won over 60% of conference games after year three. Being competitive week in and week out is really important to us.”
When it comes to the program its vision has always remained the same for coach Buckley. C4.
“The one thing we talk about whether it was year one, year five putting a championship in the building, or now into year ten — the concept of C4,” Buckley said. “Character, cohesion, community and competitiveness, those philosophical pillars have not changed at all.”
Buckley recognizes how much has changed in the conference with George Fox University having added a program and traditionally weak teams constantly improving, but was candid that those four concepts have always remained at the center of their mission.
This year’s Boxer team may be Buckley’s last as he will become Director of Athletics this July, replacing current director Ken Schumann.
So far the Boxers have had a slow start to their season going 0-4, including a loss to Linfield College to start the conference schedule. The team will head to Salem, Ore. to face Willamette University Oct. 12 before returning for their Homecoming matchup Oct. 19 against Lewis & Clark College.