By the time 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 25th comes around, Marist football fans will finally get to see their Red Foxes play at home for the first time in almost two years — 679 days to be exact — when they play their home opener against the Bryant Bulldogs in Tenney Stadium. This is a game that not just the fans are anticipating, but also the players and the coaching staff. Not even head coach Jim Parady can contain his excitement to see his team perform in its home setting.
“You could just feel the energy at practice all week,” Parady said. “It’s building – the kids talked about it this morning as we left the practice field and it’s nice to walk around campus and see people talking about coming to the game on Saturday night…you can see a different level of excitement here this week.”
The players feel this excitement, and they want to work together to create a team that the college community can be proud of. That might be the most important trait about this group, which Parady emphasized: togetherness.
Parady believes that this team’s bond is unlike others from recent years, and he believes that it spawned from the pandemic. While practicing with “pod” workouts last year, no one on the team really got to know or be reacquainted with each other. Because of that, the team entered this season with two classes of players (incoming freshmen and last year’s freshmen) who have never played with or, for that matter, knew anyone on the team.
“The closeness during preseason camp was something that I was looking to see because we had an extended preseason camp this year, and that was something that impressed me with this group,” said Parady. “How they got to know each other, how they can rely on each other and develop those relationships with each other because that’s very important when they get on the field.”
Even though they have this bond, Parady still wants people to be patient with the young players on the team. Only 18 players on the current roster have traveled with the team before this season. Most of the team doesn’t know what goes into prepping for a college football game day, and that’s to no fault of their own. It’s simply because they have no experience in doing so.
“Our younger guys are still learning and our upperclassmen have barely played either so they’re still learning too,” Parady mentioned. “Even if they have played a couple of years ago, what do you remember from a couple of years ago!”
Even if they are inexperienced, Parady believes that this new group of Red Foxes, specifically the underclassmen, have come into the season as one of the more mentally prepared groups in recent memory. He attributes this to the countless Zoom calls that the program conducted throughout the summer, and that readiness stole the show during training camp.
“That really impressed me, how far along they were in understanding what we were trying to get done with our offensive and defensive calls,” Parady said. He didn’t know how the team would react after not having a true practice in so long, so that impressed him and the coaching staff the most throughout camp.
The Red Foxes didn’t have the debut that they envisioned this past Saturday, losing 37-14 to Columbia. Parady, however, believed that there were enough positives for the Marist faithful to be hopeful for the rest of the season.
For one, this football team is disciplined. Parady made note that the team didn’t commit a single penalty throughout the whole game, something the Red Foxes have not accomplished since 2008, in a game against Lafayette. Penalty yardage can kill drives and this variation of the Red Foxes proved to be conscientious of that.
Parady also believes that special teams will play a vital role in their success this season, just as they did last week. “That’s one-third of the game and it was something that [special teams coordinator Cameron Gibson] put a lot of emphasis on during the preseason camp,” he said. “We had a punt return for a touchdown and we felt that we won all phases of the kicking game, and that’s something we can build off of as we go into this week.”
By the end of the first quarter against Columbia, Marist was up 14-0 after a Dwayne Menders punt-return touchdown and a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Day to receiver Scott Scherzer. After that, the Red Foxes gave up 37 unanswered points.
Parady believes that this complete flip was due to the game’s fast-paced start. He touched on the number of snaps that the defense took in the first quarter, and believed that they were worn out the rest of the game because they were always on the field. It didn’t help that the offense couldn’t conduct long drives to give the defense a break. He believed that this was the turning point of the game, and the heat and humidity of New York City sure didn’t help the tired Red Foxes either.
This exhaustion from the game led to the team changing up their Sunday routine. They typically run on Sundays, but because of the physicality of their last game, they instead conducted a pool workout which eases the body. That change in strategy seemed to have rejuvenated the bodies of the aching Red Foxes, so it proved to be successful.
Parady believes that this inconsistent play isn’t going to be indicative of how the team will play the rest of the season. He just sees this performance as another step in their development, and that’s how he’s going to view all of the games this season. “We’re really focused on our development…finding out who we are and what we can do well and getting those things done in a game,” he said
However, wins and losses still do matter in the grand scheme of things, so he and his squad are completely focused on the Bryant Bulldogs. “Oh yeah, it’s Bryant right now,” Parady emphasized. “Then, come Sunday, we’ll turn it over and start looking at Valparaiso in our league opener.”
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Sam DiGiovanni
Photo from Marist Athletics