It doesn’t seem like the days for a Marist football player vary all that much, regardless of the season. No, not “pre” or “post” season, but the actual season; the stuff happening outside. The leaves change, the air differs, the clouds decide whether or not they’d like to block the sun. That’s all relatively standard. Marist football, too, abides by routine, weather notwithstanding.
They’re up early in the Fall, lifting and practicing. They study throughout the remainder of the morning, whether their notes be on iLearn or on Stetson. They can often be spotted in the dining hall later on, or playing Madden at home. Lather, rinse, repeat is the lifestyle, and it persists whether the campus is budding or barren.
Summer ball, a phenomenon normally dedicated to programs of esteemed and unmitigated regard, lives here, too. It’s voluntary, rather than required, a somewhat divisive policy for Marist’s players. The routine is pretty stagnant in direct comparison to the Fall, Winter, or Spring schedules; up early, working early and always. While a regular student may view this kind of work ethic as better served in the classroom or on a professionally-minded extracurricular, these athletes make the “sacrifice,” as they call it, to fuel their insatiable appetite for sport and for their team. It’s a lot of hours, but it’s almost not enough.
“If I’m gonna do the college football experience, I might as well stay up here the entire time and get as much work in as I can,” senior safety Jack Griffith told me. “I’m not taking my fifth year, so I wanted to stay up as much as I could.” Having not seen playing time during his freshman year, Jack elected to spend his first summer on campus of what is now three following that season. He hasn’t missed a game since, playing in all 11 in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
Wide receiver Anthony Olivencia took a similar approach this past summer, his first on campus in his four years. During this time, Olivencia decided that if he was going to take said fifth year, he “wanted to be in the best shape possible.” In the past, Olivencia may have stayed home and worked, but he’d never really did so in the same capacity as teammates who’d remain on campus. His “business decision to stay” came with those benefits – working out and refining team chemistry, both aspects of the game that Olivencia would miss were he to remain home – and some personal benefits in return. “I got in really good shape… I lost 20 pounds.”
In chatting with Griffith, Olivencia, tight end Jon Kanda, and linebacker Peter Delatour, I got a sense of the steady regimen that they’ve became accustomed to on a day by day basis. Their wake up call would come, likely via a grating iPhone alarm, at 7:00 each morning. A quick breakfast led into a long work day, in which was sometimes split into segmented shifts. Griffith, who worked athletic operations with teammate Dan Wittekind, worked from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, painting lines on the field or tending to other tasks around Marist’s athletic facilities. Olivencia, on the other hand, worked from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., then again from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., fitting in lunch (or a video game) in between. The guys seemed fairly happy with these duties; well, some more than others.
“Grounds was like slavery, dog,” Jon Kanda said while attempting to mask the visceral pain that he endured on those hot summer days. “In the hot sun, man, you out here picking weeds, weed whacking… that shit was ass. I’m tellin’ you, it was ass.”
Okay, so not every aspect was a blast. But the tribulations, as Kanda eventually made clear, were well worth it. The rest of their days were dedicated to football related activities; lifting sessions took place from 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening, and conditioning or skill drills would follow. While repetition can become banal, the idea of being home, away from the game, and away from a built-in support system – your teammates – was even less appealing. Delatour explained how valuable it was to “build a bond with the guys that were up here.” “Not a lot of people stay most of the time, but this summer… we had a huge group of guys. We were able to bond, do different drills on the field, work together, get to know each other better, and I think that really helped us.”
Having these summer duties being optional, the amount of players on campus certainly varied. According to Griffith, it was “kind of discouraging” that most of the time the number did not surpass 10 or 15 people. He thought about what happened during the school year and season, where a majority of the team had skipped workouts and, in turn, created an opportunity to grow together and build chemistry. This summer, though, 30 guys showed up. “I think you can see it pay off,” he said. “A lot of kids have gotten stronger, faster, and made an impact on the field.”
The added commitment, while perceived as necessary to the college athlete, has killed summer vacation, according to Marc Tracy’s New York Time’s feature from 2018. Tracy observed the tendencies and routines of athletes at schools and programs, including Clemson men’s soccer and Creighton volleyball. The athletes mentioned and interviewed for his story seem to have similar sentiments to that of the four in mine: they want to improve, and they can’t live without their sport. Tracy quoted Taylor Kloth, a senior volleyball player at Creighton, who said, “I think it’s the norm now… “We’re all really competitive and we don’t want to sit down and give up volleyball.”
Norm it may be, but it’s become a hot-button piece to the “pay the players” debate. I didn’t ask these guys their feelings on such an issue (from what Jon Kanda told me, his weed whacking, while grueling, did pay the bills.) So, in the interest of avoiding a greater psychological conversation about obsession with one’s craft, and the athlete’s feelings on compensation, I inquired about something a bit simpler, while still broad enough for an open discussion: is this fair?
“I don’t know if I would say it’s fair,” Griffith said. “It’s different because of the level we’re at… I have friends all over the country that play at big time Division I schools, and they don’t have the option. So I appreciate that we do have an option.” Not only do they have the option, they have the coaches’ understanding that other obligations take precedents over sprints; Griffith spent part of last summer studying for the LSAT, and noted that his coaches understood. He did qualify it, though: “At a big school, I don’t know if that’s the case.”
Kanda believes that athletes should have the option, too. “You don’t know what goes [on with] someone’s family at home… And as long as you’re still putting in the work back home, you should be alright. I don’t think making it something that people have to do is necessary.” Delatour also had a similar answer, as he believes that the option should be there, even whilst being a big proponent of early-offseason preparatory workouts. Olivencia, this being his first time back during June, July, and early August, was thrilled with the outcome of the extra work. He explained that you can even see in the timing of their throws that team has “come together.”
The whole “initiative,” if you will, has the team’s goals in mind. Unlike some high profile college basketball programs, their offseason bonding crusade isn’t to Venice or Croatia. It’s from wherever they derive to Poughkeepsie, a humbler experience than an international convoy. The amenities aren’t necessary, frankly. “It’s about being with the guys you’re going to play the season with,” said Delatour. It’s still a sacrifice, though, right? Yes, says Kanda, Delatour’s summer coworker and roommate. “But if you really want a championship, you’re going to be willing to sacrifice a lot.”
Edited by David Bieber