After cutting their season short last year, the football team at Occidental has rebounded with new rigor. With a record of 1–6, they have not let recent setbacks deter them from achieving the potential of a young team, according to first-year players recruited to play for this rebuilding season.
“I’m really proud to be a part of the football program here,” wide receiver James Howe (first year) said. “Even though outcomes thus far have been disappointing, no one has lost sight of the goal or lost interest in the season.”
According to Howe, the team is committed to playing their season out strong, and many of the players are proud of the team’s efforts. Howe said the team holds each other accountable and competes to win.
“The rebuilding process has been encouraging and positive,” defensive back Connor Saludares (sophomore) said. “Everyone seems to have the same goal in mind and is doing everything they can to achieve and surpass it. A huge part of the success of this rebuilding year is the alumni and faculty support.”
According to Saludares, the football environment has been uplifting and has allowed several of the players to mature as a team.
“It’s definitely a rebuilding year,” running back DJ Adams (first year) said. “I knew this signing onto the program, and I’m all for it. I’m a hundred percent dedicated to Oxy and I can’t wait to see the change and the growth that starts with my class.”
Another important aspect of the rebuilding process is tapping into the competitive nature and motivation of the team, according to Adams.
“We got a lot of competitive players on the team who want to win now, including myself, so losing has been tough, but at the same time being such a young team. We have shown flashes of great potential,” free safety Raffi Titizian (sophomore) said.
Multiple players emphasized this ambition to continue to compete despite setbacks.
“A strength would be the ambition of the team,” Adams said. “Especially the upperclassmen — everyone is tired of that losing record, that stigma of not being good or just simply being a rebuilding team. I just applaud my players on coming out and trying to change that.”
The team is also working to correct their weaknesses, according to Adams. A lot of the players voiced that, as a mostly first-year team, their disadvantages stem from transitioning from high school football.
“Our weakest point is that we don’t finish our tackles, or we give it our all for a few seconds but don’t finish all the way through to the whistle,” running back Gabe Ramos (first year) said.
But aside from more technical corrections, it is the shift in attitude, too, that can change the trajectory of the team, according to head coach Rob Cushman.
“There’s no magic formula to this,” Cushman said. “It’s hard work, it’s perseverance, it’s dedication, it’s commitment, it’s positive attitude even when there’s people saying you can’t do it.”
The players are motivated to do well and achieve their best efforts in the final leg of the season, according to running back Seth Holston (first year).
“There’s only about fifteen more practices left, and not even all of them are contact,” Holston said. “There’s no excuse to not give it your all for three more weeks.”
The experience of having to rebuild has offered first years leadership opportunities, according to players such as kicker Kyler Parris (first year).
“I think a young team could sound leadership-deficient, but that’s certainly not what we are,” Parris said. “Young guys, freshmen, have been stepping up to the plate and where it could be a problem for a young team, it’s not here.”
The culture of community for the players is what keeps a lot of them committed to the game despite the string of losses, according to Parris.
“From the very beginning, the upperclassmen made it very clear that they were going to be welcoming, they were going to be supportive of us and that we’re all equals and we’re here to play football,” Parris said.
Several testified to the advantages of having the opportunity of more playing time at a small liberal arts college such as Occidental.
“At Oxy, you get to play four years of football,” captain and defensive back Harrison Wakefield (junior) said. “I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines and wait around too long, I wanted to get on the field and play.”
Most of the players have been playing football since they were a young age and are committed to the sport, according to Ramos.
“I choose to play for Oxy because I wanted to play,” Ramos said. “I’ve been playing since I was 5. I could have gone to a big school, but I knew I definitely wouldn’t have had the shot at playing until my third or fourth year.”
Cushman and the athletes attested to the sports and education balance Division III athletics offers. According to Cushman, the players aren’t training up to 16 hours a day such as at other DI schools because their education comes first.
According to Cushman, however, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the team. If anything, it makes the community among players at Occidental stronger, according to quarterback Joshua Greaves (junior).
“When you play at a bigger school, people tend to think about themselves more and [think], ‘I’m gonna go to the next level and play professional,’ and here we all know we’re not gonna be professional,” Greaves said. “This is our last four years of playing football. We embrace that, and that brings us closer together.”