The Occidental football team is making a return, according to an email sent to administrators by President Veitch April 23. In the email, Veitch said that the program met the conditions needed to reinstate the team: fundraising and recruiting. The administration canceled the 2017 season because of a lack of players and quality equipment, and the team played only three games. Veitch followed the season’s early termination with a message to the community in which he detailed the steps to rebuild the team for the 2018 season.
“Working under the most daunting of circumstances, Rob practiced what he preached — he never gave up — and as a result, he now expects to welcome somewhere between 55 and 58 returning and new players this fall,” Veitch said via email.
A task force consisting of administration, faculty, alumni, students, trustees and players formed to create a roadmap for the upcoming season. Linebacker Joey Garza (junior), one of the players on the task force, said the group met Jan. 19 and 20. After two days, the task force voted on the future of the football team at Occidental. The vote was a “yes,” contingent on fundraising and recruitment, according to Garza.
“So, when that happened it was like a soft ‘yes,’ so the initial reaction from the guys on the team was, you know, they were excited that football was back, but at the same time they kind of realized slowly but surely, that you know it’s not a for sure ‘yes,’” Garza said.
The program fully met fundraising and recruitment goals, according to head coach Rob Cushman. The task force gave football alumni until the end of the academic year to raise $285,000 and set a four-year target of $1.14 million. Cushman said he initially thought that goal was unattainable due to the lack of donations from alumni in recent years. Yet going into the final two weeks of the Spring 2018 semester, alumni had contributed over $300,000, according to Cushman.
“[Alumni] had not been supportive, at least financially, and some, quite honestly, just were kind of disengaged,” Cushman said. “A group called the Football Action Team lead by Vance Mueller [’86] and some others has really changed that narrative.”
With the financial goal fully reached, Cushman has turned his attention to getting back on the field. He said this required a significant increase in roster size, as a lack of players was one of the main reasons the season was canceled in the first place. According to Veitch’s email to administrators, the team expects the roster to reach 58 players, both new and returning, for the upcoming season. The players and coaches had an integral role in the uptick in recruitment for next season, according to offensive lineman Matt Trusiak (junior).
“We have recruits here just about every weekend,” Trusiak said. “Josh Greaves [(sophomore)] has done a hell of a job hosting them, J.T. [Tinsley (sophomore)] has done a great job kind of getting them to buy into it, getting them to buy into the program and coming here next year.”
Greaves, the starting quarterback, agreed with the sentiment that the players were an important part in the recruiting process.
“We’ve had to take a bigger role this year in doing that, because obviously, it’s all hands on deck, so players on the team have been reaching out to more recruits,” Greaves said.
Greaves also said that another vital part of strengthening the roster was making sure players from last season returned to play again. According to Cushman, about 25 players are returning this season, adding to around 30 new recruits for a much larger roster than last season.
Cushman said that while the team will be relatively young and still not as large as other schools in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), he is just excited to get back out on the field and get playing again.
“We don’t have a rearview mirror,” Cushman said. “We gotta look forward and that’s what this is all about.”
The administration will still have its eye on the program, monitoring the ongoing debate about concussions in football, student-athletes meeting academic standards and the declining participation in youth football programs.
“I’ve made it clear that the college has not and will not sacrifice safety or academic or student conduct standards to field a sufficient roster size. For all of these reasons, we will continue to monitor the viability of the football program as circumstances require,” Veitch said via email.