After a lack of funding and loss of players put an early end to the Tiger’s campaign last season, Occidental’s football team has returned. The Tigers played against Willamette University at Jack Kemp Stadium Sept. 15 for their second non-conference game of the season, losing the game 25–6.
During the first quarter, the Tiger’s defense was able to prevent Willamette from scoring. However, during the second and third quarters, Occidental’s defense was unable to shut out their opponent, which led to Willamette entering the fourth quarter with a 12–0 lead. The Tigers scored their first points of the game in the last quarter, with wide receiver Lucas Savoie (junior) catching the lone touchdown.
“There is no reason to hang our heads over the loss,” defensive back Harrison Wakefield (junior) said. “Obviously, it is disappointing, but we will continue to grow and play better and turn this thing around.”
According to head coach Robert Cushman, the community’s and players’ passion for the program and hard work during the off-season were instrumental in reviving the program. During the time off, the football team continued to train with strength coach Ricky Lang, Cushman said.
“We were in the weight room for four times a week trying to get ready for the season with our strength coach Ricky Lang, who really is like the heartbeat of the program,” offensive lineman Matthew Trusiak (junior) said. “He does an absolutely great job of getting everyone hyped up for practice and ready to go and setting the tempo and mindset for all of us.”
According to Trusiak, alumni played a large role in motivating and supporting the team’s efforts to play this season. Cushman said that it was a process, supported by administration and alumni, getting the team back after the end of the program last year.
“Administration, the board of trustees, alumni, a variety of people came together and supported our effort and we had to work really hard to recruit, to raise money,” Cushman said. “The alumni did an amazing job with that. We were able to recruit 28 freshmen.”
After the departure of one first year, the team now has 27 new players on the roster and 20 returning players, giving the team a total of 47 players for the new season. Cushman said that, of the first years, 14 of them are playing as starters.
According to Wakefield, the new class consists of talented, young players.
“It’s going to be the foundation of the future,” Cushman said.
Trusiak said that this year’s new players are more aware that the football team is building itself up through its wins and losses.
“Now, these kids are coming in with a mindset that we’re here, we’re here because we love our team and we’re here to build a new program, a new culture,” quarterback Josh Greaves (junior) said.
When asked about this new culture, the players described how Cushman has ushered in a culture of straightforwardness.
“We’re doing everything we can to not only be the best football players we can be, but the best people on campus we can be,” Greaves said.
Wakefield elaborated on his teammate’s statement and described how this culture change is reflected off the field.
“Off the field, I think, that’s where we are seeing the biggest culture change,” Wakefield said. “We are really trying to make sure that everyone is not only not getting into trouble, but being very outgoing, friendly, well behaved.”
The team started the season off with a game against Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior University (CETYS) in Mexico, where Occidental won 20–0. According to Cushman, the game was a good place to get started and boost the team’s morale.
“It seemed like a good opportunity to play an opponent that wouldn’t be overwhelming and give us a chance for our first game back to get on the field,” Cushman said.
According to Trusiak, the team plans to take the season one week at a time. Their first conference game of the season is at California Lutheran University Sept. 29.