W SFU 34-28                  
Photos & story: Kevin Pakos for ASPN Radio and He began covering the ACU team at their inception. Follow on Twitter @azflcom. To hear my 2017 preseason interview with Jeff Bowen.

Mission Impossible – Arizona Christian University Firestorm Football

Truth, let us begin with that.

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

On December 19th 2013, on a Thursday, ACU  President Len Munsil announced the hiring of Donnie Yantis to be the football coach. The team did not exist yet. There is no field, no equipment and there are no coaches. By the way coach, we kick off in August.

Donnie Yantis played at Paradise Valley High School. He coached the Trojans for 14 seasons. He was very successful and in a position most coaches would give anything to be in. He chose to accept this impossible mission.

He spent the holidays building a staff. Made up of many other men that had earned the respect of their high schools and colleges, they did not need to start over.

The offer from President Munsil offered many great things. A University job, being able to put it together the way Coach Yantis wanted to. But the one thing that jumps out is the ACU slogan, the one they had on their campus street side sign.

“Transforming Culture With Truth.”

What the heaven does that even mean. Isn’t education built on those things?

Building a football team, a culture, a family is what drives most coaches. The chance to enhance a players opportunities on and off the field. Sharing pain, struggle, loss and victory with them at the soul level. Coming out other side of the battle and seeing the good people their players have become. Donnie had that coaching high school.

Now, at ACU he could share a lifetime of faith, bible, hope and prayer with not only the players but his staff and the school administration. With the support of his family he set out to do the impossible. Gather the things and people needed to take the field in half a year.

His assistant head coach, that would be the current head coach Jeff Bowen, He had a great job and much success coaching the Westview Knights. He also shared the vision of the school, the heart of the team goals. His passion for sharing the gospel was as important as coaching.

Together he and Donnie began a program that would in its first three seasons became champions of the CSFL in the NAIA. The titles were won in 2015 & 2016. Donnie Yantis was Coach of the Year in 2015 in the CSFL and NAIA Independent Division.

Jeff Bowen led the team as HC to it’s second CSFL title and was selected as CSFL Coach of the Year in 2016.

I was lucky to be there to witness the start of ACU Football.  Lucky to have Donnie on our Saturday night radio show, the Arizona Sports Network 1280 AM to announce his new plans. He and a couple football associates joined us, Northwest Christian HS HC David Innes and Mesa Community College HC Ryan Felker. All men of faith. They wanted to encourage him on this new venture. That and make a little fun of such a crazy idea.

In 2015 after the first title Coach Yantis took a job working for the Devils. Be careful what you wish for, right. He is the Assistant Athletic Director, Recruiting for the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Taking over was the man Donnie had at his side as together they built the Firestorm from the ground up. Many players won accolades for their playing and their grades under Coach Bowen in this the third year of ACU Football in 2016.

The 2016 campaign produced the first ever All American for ACU. Derek Brush P/K. He is from Whitier, California. He averages 45.6 yards and punted for 1,959 yards. His longest was 75 yards. He had 14 that went 50 yards or more. He pinned opponents inside their 20 yard lines 14 times. One of only two NAIA punters to average over 43 yards per punt. He also handled kickoffs and field goals. He was third on the team in scoring. He was one of only two players from the CSFL to become All Americans.

The Firestorm produced seven NAIA Scholar & CSFL Academic Athletes in 2016. They were: SR Brennan Bowen OL. SR Quinta Thomas RB, JR Derek Brush P/K, JR Ryan Esslinger QB. JR Daniel Schembri WR, JR Sammy Serwa S, JR Sam Strate.

 Jeff Bowen and his staff work tirelessly to be a good team and to provide the players with academic, athletic and spiritual guidance. The results are amazing. In addition to the players already mentioned, there were 22 All-CSFL players. Plus 35 on the CSFL All Academic team.

On the field the team averaged 34.5 points per game, they gave up 23.7 points. That ranked them second in that CSFL category.

Before arriving at ACU, Coach Bowens football and track achievement were filled with great stats. 10 times as Coach of the Year. He spent nine years as a member of the Arizona Football Coaches Association Executive Board.

In 11 years as Head Coach of the Westview Knights they were in back to back state title games and won their section three straight years. He got his bachelor’s degree in biology at ASU and his masters in educational leadership at NAU.

Even with all he has accomplished in sports and education, I believe he is most proud of his family. His wife Heather and the kids. Son Brennan and his wife Kristen. Daughters Morgan and her husband Jeremiah Watson. His Daughter Hannah.

Brennan played for his dad in high school, went off college after high school, but when ACU began he came back to play for dad again. Brennan is among the honored mentioned above for his play and academic achievement. He played center and was usually surrounded by freshman or sophomore players. All this while winning two conference titles.

He is by all accounts, an amazing teacher of the word and often led the team in prayer and outreach on and off the field.

In 2015 I talked with him about the team that had lost the first three games, badly. Comparing it to the team that just won its fifth in a row. Keep in mind the other four offensive linemen were freshmen. He said. “First off you have to recognize the team, it’s Gods team and really, just getting them to believe in the message we have been preaching is the key. If you can improve unity you can do a lot with a team.”

 On the 70-14 loss in New Mexico. “It was the Friday meeting before we left for New Mexico, I could sense in the spirit that there was still division, still disunity. Players not bought in with the coaches, I was checked in the spirit and gave them a warning. If this is way we continue, things will not go the way we want them to.”

“The 70-14 loss was pretty devastating. But God is able to work with broken people more than people that have no need of anything. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to us. We knew we had the talent, it was the intangibles that had to get fixed.”

“That was really the motivation, in that place of brokenness to look to God and say, we need help and he has been faithful to show up.”

It was then that the vision that Mr. Munsil presented to Donnie and Jeff made complete sense to me.

“Transforming Culture With Truth.”

I could have told this story by just pointing out the record, from worst to first, two titles and the accolades the coaches and players earned. That would have been enough to get ready for the upcoming 2017 season.

To hear Brennan speak the truth that his father had been living all his life. That Donnie Yantis and his family had lived all their lives. Coming together so that this new venture, like a Phoenix would rise from nothing and become this family.

All I can say is the men and women that are building this University, this team and the entire athletic department are laying a foundation for generations to come. If it was just about football, they could have stayed where they were.


I thought I was done, but first let me close with this….. Aaaaagggghhhhh. Remember hearing the pastors say that on Sunday….

Just some time perspective trivia as it relates to University football teams. How Donnie Yantis and Jeff Bowen got the call in December 2013 and launched a program in August 2014. Compared ASU, UA, NAU and their football timelines and history.

Arizona State University Sun Devils: Began play in 1897, joined the Pac-10 in 1978, play in the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) with 130 teams that play in 39 bowl games. ASU is 14-14-1 in bowls, has 17 conference titles and one division title. The new CFB Playoff system began in 2014 & is not NCAA sanctioned. Until the CFL Playoffs began the National Champions were determined by polls. In 1970 they were 11-0, 1975 12-0 under Frank Kush Various polls have them as national champs those two seasons.

University of Arizona Wildcats: Began play in 1899 are 9-10-0 in bowls, six conference titles, one division title, the Pac-12 South Division Championship.

Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks: Began play in 1915. Play in the Big Sky Conference. Are an FCS team (Football Championship Subdivision – Playoffs) They, like ASU and UA are a D1 program. They compete with 124 teams in 13 conferences to earn a spot in a 24 team bracket. They have two Big Sky Championships 1978, 2003. Played in the playoffs in five years winning one and losing five games.

Arizona Christian University Firestorm: Began in 2014 and are an NAIA team that plays in the CSFL Central States Football League since 2015. In 2014 they played an independent schedule. They compete with 88 teams to earn a spot in the 16 team playoff bracket. They have not been in the playoffs yet. In three seasons they have won two conference championships. They were unbeaten 6-0 in conference play both years.

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