Led by recruiting coordinator James Groce, Marist football had to adjust its recruitment tactics around the COVID-19 pandemic. The program still brought in its biggest class since 2011.
It started in February of 2020 with roughly 30 positions available. There were 10,898 high-schoolers in the applicant pool. Over the next 11 months, that number was whittled down until 35 remained. Those individuals were all officially signed by the following February and the cycle started all over again for next year. In its most basic terms, that was Marist football’s recruiting process for this upcoming season.
The football team’s class of 2025 is the largest class the Red Foxes have had in a decade and features athletes from nine states and Washington D.C. Head coach Jim Parady is thrilled to bring in eight offensive linemen, which is a tough position to recruit and a position of need due to the incessant injuries those players can face. Defensive line coach James Groce said the class is “a very athletic group of kids” that have the potential to be difference-makers sooner rather than later.
There aren’t any stops or breaks in the recruiting calendar. Roughly two weeks after the team made the official announcement about the class of 2025, Parady and Groce had already begun working on recruiting the class of 2026.
Everything that happened around the crunching of the numbers is usually a personable, fleshed-out effort that requires a lot of travelling and meeting new people. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was all consolidated and reformed digitally.
Groce, who also serves as the team’s team’s recruiting coordinator, devised a series of Zoom calls. The final product was something Parady didn’t think was possible — a recreation of everything Marist usually does on Zoom. “Coach Groce did an unbelievable job adjusting this year,” Parady said. “All the coaches did but he was the driving factor in the ideas to switch us over.”
“I felt very good that the kids who were signing with Marist in February knew about our institution and knew exactly what they were getting into,” Parady said. “And that’s what you want as a recruiting coach. You don’t want them to have any surprises when they come to this campus. By all the things Coach Groce did — and the other assistants, but he set it up — we were able to get that accomplished.”
The Zoom events with recruits ran the gamut from information sessions, presentations about the college and the football program, breakout rooms with the position coaches and a panel of current players. In the last Zoom, coaches called in from various parts of campus to create a virtual walk-around tour, which was hugely important for non-local recruits. “I thought everything was gonna go wrong, but everything went right, thank God,” Groce said. “Marist had some very good wifi that really helped everything out.”
Groce described the adjustments as “a headache and a half”. Despite the struggles, he spoke proudly of how they handled the transition. “Getting into those [meetings] and the way we developed from our initial Zoom meeting to our final one was just amazing.” he said. “We did a lot, and it was very successful.”
In pre-pandemic times, Marist football covered as much ground as physically possible to meet and convince recruits of the college and the football program. Coaches would hit the road in the spring, diverging to various places to collect more information about recruits and take a look at any camps, showcases or spring practices that take place.
June and July, Groce explained, is when the bulk of camps take place. “We have the ability to go to different camps,” he said. “If we know a coach at a certain school, we can go visit that school. We’ll get an opportunity to go watch their camp and maybe help out with their camp if they need any help.” Parady instructs his assistant coaches to find five summer camps to work — it’s more of a target than a requirement.
Groce mentioned one showcase in Maryland — which also welcomes athletes from Virginia, Delaware and Washington D.C. — that serves as a gold mine for his recruiting efforts. “Literally every kid that I’m recruiting is typically there,” he said. “So, I get to see them going against another recruit in a one-on-one type of situation where I can see them live.” Performances at showcases can help or hinder a recruit’s stock, though Groce said it mostly does the former.
During the season, Marist welcomes recruits for game day visits and campus tours. After the season concludes, around Thanksgiving time, the coaches hit the road again, traveling to games and meeting the recruits in person. To make the workload easier, assistant coaches are assigned to a geographic area to cover, usually a place they grew up in or around.
Parady said that the most important and advertised part of coming to Marist is the academic experience. “The first thing I talk about is the school part of it,” he said, explaining that getting an education and graduating are the foremost priorities. “Some have the perception [that] they’re gonna go to college and they’re just gonna slide on through. That’s not gonna be the case here at Marist.”
“When I’m recruiting a kid, I guess the amount of football I really talk with him isn’t as much as you would really think it is, truthfully,” Groce said. He focuses on the academic, networking and support opportunities as facets of the Marist experience that set it apart from the rest.
One of the first steps taken in the process of compiling recruits is filtering out athletes who don’t have a grade point average of 3.0. That’s how 10,898 prospective players got cut down to around 6,000. Marist’s target GPA is significantly higher than the NCAA requirement of a 2.3 GPA in core classes. In letter grade terms, the NCAA only requires a C+ average while Marist is only interested in students who average at least a B.
“They definitely make sure that education is first,” said Erin Doherty ‘22, a student worker for the team. She also said that Parady will meet with players to see how they’re doing in school and help them find tutors or other resources if they are struggling. “I tell every kid, ‘Football is gonna end at some point,’” Groce said. “If you come to Marist, we’re gonna make sure you have a plan for life after football.”
The absence of in-person meetings left a void in the recruiting process. Recruits couldn’t visit campus and coaches couldn’t visit recruits in their homes. “I love to sit in a room with somebody on our campus because I think that’s something that helps us finalize the situation,” Parady said. For Groce, the absence of camps has been a primary drawback. “There’s so much exposure that the kids get and so much information and data that I can get from those camps and showcases that I traditionally get,” he said.
“In previous spring seasons, I would be in the office a lot – making folders, labeling things, laminating badges and making the lanyards for the prospective students who are coming in.” Doherty said. “Now, I’m doing 100 percent of the spreadsheets, and going on Twitter and finding the students accounts, writing down their GPAs.”
Although the shift to Zoom wasn’t preferred, Groce said that there have been discussions that Zoom may still be used when the threat of the pandemic is mitigated in order to “get the exposure and get the information to kids a lot sooner than what we would traditionally would.” He said that the team can have their initial visits earlier than usual and then have in-person meetings.
The football coaches still have yet to meet anyone from the class of 2025 face-to-face and they don’t have a date for when they will. Groce described the whole experience as “recruiting blind” because of that. Still, Marist was able to execute on their vision and bring in their biggest crop of recruits in recent memory. And they’ve already begun cracking on the next crop.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney and Bridget Reilly