Belhaven Athletics Announces CJ Nightingale as Head Football Coach
January 5, 2024 (Jackson, Miss.) - Belhaven Athletics is excited to welcome CJ Nightingale as the eighth Head Football Coach in Blazers' history as announced by Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Little on Sunday.
"We are excited and thankful to have CJ, Shanel and their family join us as CJ leads our football program into the seasons ahead", said Little. "His love for Christ, his commitment to the growth and maturity of young men, and his competitive success are in perfect alignment with our mission as a department and a university."
"CJ is ideally gifted, equipped, and prepared to be an outstanding head football coach", added Belhaven University President Dr. Roger Parrott. "He has a track record of demonstrating love for his players, commitment to discipleship, and equipping young men to be highly competitive on the field and prepared for life beyond football. He is a student of the game, of scripture, and of life, plus he comes into this important leadership role with a servant's spirit and a track record of excellence. I am overjoyed that God is bringing CJ to Belhaven."
As a former collegiate player and current coach, Nightingale has extensive experience at the NCAA Division III level having played collegiately for Wheaton College (IL) before serving in multiple coaching capacities at both the NCAA Division III and NAIA levels.
"Shanel and I, along with our family, are excited to be joining the Belhaven community", said Nightingale. "There are not many places in college football where you can combine loving Jesus with championship football, and we get to do that with Blazers Football. The foundation is strong for us to continue to pursue excellence spiritually, academically, athletically, and socially."
Nightingale arrives at Belhaven after spending four seasons as the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach at Wheaton College where the Thunder reached the NCAA Division III playoffs in all four years and won the CCIW in 2019.
In 2022, Nightingale was named as a participant in the American Football Coaches Association 35 Under 35 Leadership Institute, a prestigious program designed to identify and develop some of the best young coaches in the country. Additionally, Nightingale has been a speaker at AFCA Coaching Clinics as well as at Glazier Coaching Clinics.
This past season, Nightingale coached a defense that finished as the #2 defense in points per game and yards per game in the CCIW, an identical mark to what was held in the 2022 campaign.
Nightingale's 2021 defense led the country in Total Sacks and Sacks Per Game while ranking second in Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed and third in Total Tackles for Loss.
In his first year at Wheaton, Nightingale's 2019 unit was the top scoring defense in the country while also holding the best Yards Allowed Per Game average, Yards Allowed Per Play average, and Defensive Passing Efficiency nationally. His nationally renowned defense earned him a spot as a finalist for FootballScoop.com's NCAA Division III Assistant Coach of the Year Award.
Across his time as Defensive Coordinator for the Thunder, Nightingale coached 24 All-Conference players, 10 All-Region players, and seven All-Americans. He also coached CCIW and National Defensive Player of the Year, Dallas McRae in 2019 who also earned CCIW Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.
Prior to his coaching time at Wheaton, Nightingale served as the Special Teams Coordinator and Linebackers Coach at Indiana Wesleyan University (NAIA) from 2017-2019, helping mold a program that had its first varsity season in 2018 and went 7-3 during their inaugural campaign.
Nightingale got his collegiate coaching start at Greenville University (DIII) where he served as Defensive Backs Coach for the 2016 season. During his time at Greenville, Nightingale helped on a staff that had the UMAC Player of the Year, one All-American, and an NFL Signee.
Prior to coaching, Nightingale was a four-year letter-winner at Wheaton College as a defensive back and return specialist. In 2010, Nightingale was a part of a Thunder team that made it to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Division III Playoffs and in 2012 he was a part of a CCIW Championship team.
With his background as both a player and coach at the high level within NCAA Division III, Nightingale is held in high regard by those who have coached him and worked alongside him.
"I had the privilege of both coaching CJ as a player here at Wheaton College and coaching alongside him as a member of my staff", said Mike Swider who was the Head Coach at Wheaton for over 20 years. "He is a football guy through and through with an exceptional grasp of the game. More importantly, is his desire to lead and inspire young men to become committed Christ followers and strong leaders in their homes and our country."
"CJ Nightingale is a winner", added Ron Sanberg, former Wheaton Defensive Coordinator and current Whitworth Head Coach. "He has a great football mind, is an exceptional teacher of the game, and he cares deeply about his players. Most importantly, he has a mature faith and lives it out on a daily basis."
Nightingale takes over a Belhaven program that is coming off its most successful season in program history having gone 9-1 during the regular season and winning the team's first outright conference championship. The Blazers also made their first appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs by way of their USA South title.