LIVONIA — Brian Foos has a vision of 2020.

That’s when the new Madonna University football team will first take the field, and Foos will be the head coach guiding the Crusader gridders toward victory.

While there’s a lot of work to be done with the startup program before the initial kickoff scheduled for September of next year, the Crusaders have a major piece in place with Foos, whose hiring was announced Jan. 2.

The Tiffin, Ohio, native has actually been involved with two emerging college football programs before — as an assistant at Lindsey Wilson College (in Kentucky) and Ohio Dominican University — so he knows there’s a list of things to cover before the talk turns to Xs and Os.

“The first thing I did was talk to the admissions staff and introduced myself in person,” Foos said, “and I wanted to know who’s inquired, who’s applied and who can I follow up with right away. They’re going to be a huge resource and a huge ally for the program.”

The Livonia-based Catholic university has had intercollegiate athletics since 1987-88, yet this will be the first time the school has offered football. And that’s not necessarily a setback for recruiting, according to Foos. 

“I think it’s easier,” he said. “The chance to be the first to do something doesn’t come around often in one’s lifetime. It’s easy to sell that to student-athletes. I’m always going to play the best players; in year one and two you’ve got an opportunity to play for three or four years, so that’s a plus. When you get to year 3-4-5, that is when (recruiting) gets a bit more difficult.”

While upgrading Madonna’s facilities to include a football-sized weight room, locker room and stadium are ingredients to getting the program in place, Foos says attracting the right people — whether it be his coaching staff or his student-athletes — is the highest priority.

Mockups of the football uniforms for Madonna University are shown in this artist's rendering. The team will begin play against NAIA opponents in the 2020 fall season. 

“First and foremost, the bottom line is it’s always about people,” he said. “People around campus have to see you’re bringing in the right type of people. You have to make sure you’re staying in line with Madonna’s values and the Felician values.”

Madonna already has a football recruiting form posted on its athletic department’s website, mucrusaders.com, and Foos eagerly looks forward to familiarizing himself with high school football programs in and around the Livonia area once he and his family settles here.

“There’s a lot of other new (college football) programs around, so we’re still competing for the athletes coming out of school. That’s not new to me,” he said. “We’ve got to do a good job recruiting in state and hopefully winning a number of those battles recruiting-wise.”

Play won’t begin until the 2020 season, but Madonna will begin building its roster this year by attracting 2019 high school graduates. Those student-athletes will be running, weightlifting and conditioning together in the fall, which will be considered a “redshirt” season. Another class of incoming student-athletes will join next year, when Madonna will square off against fellow NAIA schools such as Concordia University-Ann Arbor, Siena Heights University, Lawrence Tech University and other colleges across the Midwest.

“Our goals are going to be the same as theirs: to compete for conference and national championships; realistically, that’s not necessarily where we’re going to be the first year,” Foos said. “You always want to improve every day. We want to be getting better and perfecting our craft. It’s about focusing on where we’re going and making sure we’re working hard and getting the most out of our student-athletes.”

Foos also has some off-the-field goals for the Crusaders’ newest team.

“Going to class and building relationships with professors, not having classroom issues, saying please and thank you, going out and doing community service — that culture carries on,” he said. “Instilling those values is the next step. The first lifeblood of a program is what is your culture going to be. We want to have guys doing things the right way, because that’s how we do it.” 

Foos is also looking forward to establishing Madonna football’s other “firsts,” whatever shape those may take. 

“In a new program, you basically set everything from what traditions you have to what you do on game day, and those things are going to carry through. That’s pretty exciting,” he said. “At Lindsey Wilson, where the stadium is, there’s a lot of large rocks beside the stairway down to the field. Someone said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to paint a rock black every time we get a home win?’ and that’s what we’ve done.”

It was there where Foos met his wife, Sara. The couple have a 4-year-old daughter, Leah. The 39-year-old is a 2003 graduate of Otterbein University (in Ohio), where he was a four-year football starter as an offensive lineman. He has 16 years of coaching experience, most recently as the offensive coordinator at Baldwin-Wallace University (also in Ohio), and was among 100 applicants for the Madonna opening.

“Brian’s experience in the NAIA and with starting a pair of programs that were successful in a short period of time are obviously pluses on his resume, but everyone we talked to raved about him as a person,” Madonna athletic director Scott Kennell said in a press release. “He fits the Madonna model of putting the student before athlete and values the Franciscan principles that we stand for here at Madonna. We are excited to have him on board and expect great things.”

“Madonna’s a great fit for where I’m at spiritually,” Foos said. “It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be fun. I am looking forward to building the program.”