Behind the scenes: Recruiters & athletes make Occidental home for prospective athletes

Dave Foley, Occidental College’s cross country and track & field assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, at Jack Kemp Stadium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Nov. 4, 2019. Gwen Berghof/The Occidental

According to the NCAA website, Division III schools strive to create a recruiting environment that emphasizes the student-athlete’s well-being. The student’s interests are the center of this recruiting process at Occidental, according to football recruiting officer Ricky Lang and track and field and cross country recruiting officer Dave Foley ’12.

“We want people that really want to be at Occidental,” Foley said. “If you have a team full of talented people that hate the school, they’re not going to do well. But if you have a team of people that are passionate about being a good runner, thrower, jumper, etc. and they love being on this campus, the team is going to be better.”

During the recruiting process, Foley communicates with 300 student-athletes, a number that has been whittled down from 12,000.

Track and field and cross country is unlike any other sport, except for maybe swimming and diving, in that it is very quantifiable,” Foley said. “We don’t need to necessarily go watch somebody compete to get a sense that they’re a good fit for the team athletically.”

Instead, Foley said he is looking for student-athletes that will enjoy Occidental athletically, academically and socially. Foley, a former track and field athlete at Occidental, said he aims to find students that are interested in more than just athletics in college.

“I want student-athletes to come here because for me, the experience was such that it was a very important part of my life,” Foley said. “If I can help somebody find that, then the job is done.”

For Lang, the process begins in the spring with a mass email to 20,000 potential football players to gauge interest. From there, the coaches sift through names, GPAs and test scores to determine the students who would best fit Occidental academically. 1,500 football student athletes are then invited to Junior Day, the football team’s annual visiting day for recruits and their families.

In the summer, the coaches travel nationwide to attend football camps, three of which have an academic emphasis, to scout potential players. In the fall, the coaches stay in close contact with the recruits and then invite them to see the campus, according to Lang.

“The fall is about getting them to come for another visit — for the overnight visit,” Lang said. “That’s where we put them with a player and they stay in the dorms, eat on campus and come to a game. They’re a Tiger for a day.”

From there, the recruiting process is also based around building relationships with the players, according to Lang. Through emails, texts, personal tours and Twitter DMs, Lang gets to know players across the country looking to play football at Occidental. Ultimately, the student-athletes decide to come to Occidental because true passion to play the sport underpins their decision to pursue it in college, according to Lang.

“Football is a different sport,” Lang said. “It’s so physical because you’re running into each other. You have to want and love to do that. It’s tough to do that 20 hours a week.”

On the other side of the recruiting process, student-athletes highlight Occidental’s equal emphasis on athletics, academics and social life as a motivating factor to attend. According to Maggie Baird (first year), a goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team, the lack of separation between student-athletes and non-student-athletes was a defining factor in her decision to come to Occidental.

“A lot of other schools are all about athletics, and it creates this divide between the athletic teams and the student body,” Baird said. “That wasn’t the community I wanted to be a part of because I wanted to meet other people that weren’t athletes.”

For track and field runner Lydia Montgomery (first year), the opportunity to spend time with the athletes and get to know the team before making her decision influenced her choice. Defender Riley McCabe (senior), a member of the men’s soccer team, echoed this sentiment.

“I realized that when I came here, the guys on the soccer team genuinely liked each other and were friends,” McCabe said. “They were all really nice guys, too.”

McCabe cited the advice his mom gave him when he was making his decision to attend Occidental.

“My mom asked me, ‘Would you be happy here if you just could not play? Would you still enjoy the school?'” McCabe said. “‘If you’re going to a DIII school, go to a school where you will be happy regardless of what works out because injuries can happen, cuts happen, programs get shut down, and you’re not playing it year round.’ That’s what pushed me towards Occidental versus any other school.”