Belhaven tabs Nightingale as new head football coach

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Belhaven has found its new head football coach following the departure of program great Blaine McCorkle.

On Sunday, the Christian university in Jackson announced CJ Nightingale as the team’s new head coach. Nightingale comes to Belhaven after four seasons as the defensive coordinator at Wheaton College in Illinois.

“Shanel and I, along with our family, are excited to be joining the Belhaven community,” Nightingale said, per a press release. “There are not many places in college football where you can combine loving Jesus with championship football, and we get to do that with Blazer football. The foundation is strong for us to continue to pursue excellence spiritually, academically, athletically, and socially.”

No stranger to the playoffs, Nightingale and his Wheaton defense made four different runs during his tenure. In 2021 and 2023, the Thunder advanced to the second round while in 2019, they advanced to the third.

Nightingale takes over a Belhaven program that made its first-ever playoff appearance this past season, falling to eventual national champion runner-up North Central in the opening round. While the Blazers are losing an offensive core of quarterback Tim Johnson, running back Kolbe Blunt, and tackle Kendrioun Boatman as well as Carlton Brown on the defensive line, the team has five All-GSC players expected to return next season.

“We are excited and thankful to have CJ, Shanel and their family join us as CJ leads our football program into the seasons ahead,” Belhaven athletics director Scott Little said. “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.”

During his time at Wheaton, Nightingale consistently had one of the top defenses in Division III. In 2023, the Thunder finished No. 2 in the stout College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) in points allowed per game and yards allowed per game, an identical mark to where they were in 2022.

In 2021, Wheaton led the country in total sacks and sacks per game while ranking second in rushing yards allowed per game and third in tackles for loss. In 2019 – one year before the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19 – Nightingale’s unit led the nation in scoring, yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, and defensive passing efficiency.

Prior to his time coaching at Wheaton, Nightingale served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at NAIA Indiana Wesleyan University from 2017-19 and defensive backs coach at Greenville in 2016. He played as a defensive back at Wheaton from 2010-13.

He takes over for McCorkle, who went 31-25 at Belhaven across six seasons to become the program’s all-time winningest coach. McCorkle left last month for Division I FCS Northwestern State.

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