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Building a Robotics Football Team

March 15, 2023

This past fall, as Calvin University was announcing the addition of football to its athletic offerings, its other football team was making a splash at a combine event.

“At the combine we competed in multiple events. There were two events where we got first place, and we placed high in the other events as well,” said Luke Jensen, a junior electrical engineering major on Calvin’s 10-person robotics football team.

In its first year competing, the team rivaled opponents from the University of Notre Dame, the U.S. Naval Academy, Valparaiso University, and Ohio Northern University in multiple skills events on Notre Dame's campus.

“The faculty adviser at Notre Dame commented to me that he has never seen a team make so much progress in a single year,” said Ren Tubergen, faculty adviser for the Calvin robotics football team.

Just as in the sport of football, in which there are three units – offense, defense, and special teams – robotics football is divided into three specialty areas. Different students are in charge of the electrical, mechanical, and software components that make the robots ready for competition.

Calvin’s team is well-balanced in terms of class distribution, with three seniors, three juniors, two sophomores, and two freshmen on the roster. The team is mainly composed of electrical and mechanical engineers, with one student holding a major in computer science and others with computer science minors.

While most students on the team have previous robotics experience from high school, the student leaders say they are eager to help develop walk-ons as well.

“We love robotics, and we want more people to get into it,” said Jacob Vanden Bosch, a junior electrical engineering major on the team. “We are willing to support anyone who is interested on the chance they like it and stick around.”

“We had positive high school experiences with robotics, and so it’s cool to go into college and be able to continue that and to share that same experience . . . with fellow students, some of whom are discovering robotics for the first time.”

The Calvin University robotics football team will take to the field for its first full 8 vs. 8 competition on April 1, 2023, at a tournament at Ohio Northern University.

Jensen and Vanden Bosch say the team is looking to expand its roster, hoping to attract more computer science majors to help on software components and business majors to help secure sponsorships that will allow the team to continue to improve and build its robots.