When President Veitch announced the continuation of the football team in a community-wide statement Jan. 26, a key focus of the program moving forward was a new recruitment strategy to meet the goal of fielding a minimum of 60 players. According to head football coach Rob Cushman, the newly revamped recruitment process has shifted to emphasize recruiting players from a wider geographic range who see Occidental as their top-choice school.
“Recruiting is the lifeline of college athletics, specifically in a sport like football where numbers are so critical,” Cushman said.
Cushman was hired in August 2017 following the retirement of the previous coach Doug Semones. Cushman brings over 35 years of recruiting experience to the program. According to Cushman, the assistant coaches and players have done an excellent job both with the transition of the program and the recruiting process.
“The attitude has been really good, they [coaches and players] are really excited about the reinstatement, ” Cushman said.
Despite the cancellation of the remainder of the season, Cushman said that he hopes to retain at least 25 current players for next year out of the nearly 30 that were still eligible by the end of the season. Yet, attrition rates can be influenced by a myriad of factors including financial aid, lack of interest and the success of the program.
“You’ll always have attrition regardless to what transpires [in season],” Cushman said.
The recruiting process has transformed over the past couple of years; with the influx of new coaches and interest in attending from potential players, there has been a substantial increase in summer visits, prospective student overnight visits and communication between coaches and prospective players, according to Cushman. Former quarterback Josh Greaves (sophomore) and former offensive lineman Matthew Trusiak (junior) echoed Cushman’s sentiments about the success of the recruiting process thus far.
“[The recruits] are getting a better idea of what Occidental is about as an academic institution,” Greaves said.
The old model of recruitment was less focused on having recruits commit to early decision. With the old model, an average of two prospective players each year would apply early decision, according to Cushman. This year, just over 30 prospective players applied early decision and 16 were admitted and have put down their enrollment deposits. With the influx of applications for regular decision, the goal of committing at least 55 players for next fall should be met, Cushman said.
“One of the biggest differences between the recruits that have visited this year compared to my previous two years is the recruits that are visiting this year are coming in with Oxy as their first choice,” Trusiak said.
Geographical diversity of the roster has become an integral component of looking for new, qualified recruits, according to Trusiak. There have been almost 100 recruiting visits since December. Throughout the process itself, it is important to look for highly motivated and academically focused individuals who want Occidental to be their first choice, according to Cushman.
“A lot of these kids want to come out to California, they want to come to school at a good institution, and it’s showing in their excitement when they come and visit,” Trusiak said.
Greaves oftentimes acts as a student liaison for the program by hosting prospective players Thursdays and Fridays and showing them many places on and off campus.
“[The recruits] tell me how much they love Oxy,” Greaves said. “These are highly intelligent kids that will be making a difference not only on the football field but throughout the entire community.”
Academics are of the utmost importance when it comes to finding the right fit for the program, according to Cushman. Standards of admission are not lowered to let prospective players in. This past year, the coaching staff has focused more on highlighting Occidental’s academic prowess, location and post-graduation job placement when meeting with new prospective players, according to Greaves.
“[Potential players have] got to meet the standards,” Cushman said. “We’ve got to recruit the right student and it really is student first.”
Cushman said he is already looking ahead to recruit athletes who are expected to graduate high school in 2019. He has over 500 names listed as prospective student-athletes.