A few drives into Marist football’s first scrimmage of the offseason, quarterback Austin Day dropped back to pass and then scrambled away from a collapsing pocket. He ran left towards the sideline with a defender approaching. Trying to dodge him, Day attempted to hurdle him. Leaping over defenders is a rare but not-unheard-of move for ball carriers. But in the context of the scrimmage, it was pretty out of place.
This scrimmage was one of two intrasquad scrimmages the Red Foxes will have during their training camp period, wherein the Marist offense faces off against the defense. Not only was Day running towards his teammate in what was technically a practice, but he was also wearing a green jersey, which all the quarterbacks wear to signify that they are not to be tackled (the rest of the offensive players wear white practice jerseys while the defense dons red).
For those who are unaware, the protocol for football practices is to not deck the quarterback in order to maintain their health. The defense plays two-hand touch when they get to the QB while going full contact with everyone else. Day knew he wasn’t going to get tackled. He still made a play to dodge the defender, who ended up just putting his arms up to the starting QB and tapping him as he descended.
As Marist ramps up its football activities, getting back into the mindset of a game is the most critical step as the team prepares for its first taste of action in nearly two years.
“When it’s gametime — and today I had to play like it was game time ‘cause it’s been a long time — I get in my mode,” Day said. “I thought that I was going to get tackled…that was just instincts.”
Getting familiar with gametime mode again is one of the most crucial things for the team to do before their season officially begins in just a few weeks. Head coach Jim Parady said he was mostly focused on working on the team’s “game-day operations” like sideline discipline and organization in the team’s return to full-speed 11-on-11 play.
Shaking off rust was another major point of emphasis. Having been at camp for over a full week has helped matters but it’s not the same as full-speed playing situations. “When we get that rust out, going live, flying around, hitting people, then I think we’ll be ready,” said running back Hunter Cobb about preparing for week one.
Cobb, a redshirt junior, will be one of the team’s most important offensive players. In 2019, he ranked fourth in the PFL in rushing touchdowns and ninth in rushing yards per game. Parody told Ken McMillan of the Times Herald-Record that offensive lineman Ethan Parrish and Ben Johnson, wide receiver Dwayne Menders will also be key offensive players this season in addition to Cobb and Day.
Day’s ability to move the ball is his strength, as his 183.4 passing yards per game ranked sixth in the PFL in 2019. But he threw only eight touchdowns while throwing 10 interceptions. Marist’s total offensive output was poor during their most recent season. They ranked last in the conference in average time of possession. Building more sustainable drives — ones that consistently end in points — depends on how crisply they execute their plays. These scrimmages are where they set the foundation to do so.
Day came into the scrimmage looking to sharpen his timing and coverage reads. He said he did well, but that there’s always room for improvement. “I made some throws but there was another throw that could’ve been better than that,” he said. “Only things to build on [coming] off of today.”
Defensively, Marist will lean against defensive lineman Aaron Acosta and safety Kyle Fleitman, the two Red Foxes named to the Preseason All-PFL Team. In addition to those two, Parody told McMillan that linebackers Arthur Pinckney and Mike Arrington, safety Teddy Wright and defensive lineman Nick Foglia are crucial pieces of the defense.
Marist’s defense was better than its offense in 2019 but not by very much. They ranked in the middle of the pack in most areas. Where they excel is in the red zone, only allowing a score on 75.6 percent of their opponents’ chances, which was the best mark in the conference. Owning the battle at the line of scrimmage is a huge reason for this.
Acosta said the defensive line is responsible for setting the tone, and they did just that in their return to action. “Being nasty on the D-line — that’s what we do. And that’s what we did today,” he said, adding that he’s feeling like the team is starting to click.
Parody agrees. Training camp has been as much about getting into the groove of football as it is to getting used to being a team again. “We were never together as a group last year, and so, really, we’ve only been together for 10 days,” he said. Coming together as an entire roster in person after sitting out last season necessitated some re-acclimation to going full contact.
Parady was unsure how it would go. So far, the team has lived up to, if not exceeded, his expectations. The way the players tested in the weight room and the shape they came back in has given Parady a great sense of confidence in the team. His fellow PFL coaches don’t feel the same way, though.
Marist tied for ninth place in the Pioneer Football League Preseason Coaches’ Poll, went 4-7 in 2019, and posted losing records in the preceding five seasons. The Red Foxes are slated to play the same old tune for another year, finishing somewhere in the lower part of the PFL’s standings.
The lack of outside confidence in the team merely adds fuel to the fire for the Foxes. Fleitman said that the poll results are posted in the locker room and weight room so that it can be used for motivation. “We’re just ready to go out there and prove everybody wrong,” he said.
Acosta said the poll will definitely be a source of motivation, but not the only one. “We also just believe in ourselves and really don’t need outside expectations and stuff like that,” he said. “That’s really all we need…we got each other’s backs.”
The Red Foxes open their season at Georgetown on September 4 and return to Tenney Stadium on September 25 against Bryant. Their first challenges in their quest to prove they can be a truly good team lie directly ahead of them. The work being put in to do so is underway and their level of preparation is right on schedule, leaning towards being ahead of it.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics