Yeomen Struggle to Recruit a Full Roster

Rose Stolof, Sports Editor

With a roster 37 players strong, Head Football Coach Jeff Ramsey and his eight assistant coaches have a difficult task to complete every year. As senior players graduate, Ramsey and his staff must attract the most promising high school juniors to Oberlin in order to mold the football team into the most skilled, intellectual and diverse squad they can.

When Ramsey was first brought on as head football coach at the start of the season in 1999, he was handed a team of 26 players.

“It was really a trial by fire my first year here,” said Ramsey. “I wasn’t able to recruit because it was past the application date and no concessions were made.” In order to fill his roster, Ramsey became creative.

“I think we had nine guys on the team that year that had never played football,” he said.

Today, though he struggles to recruit sufficient numbers, Ramsey has time on his side in the recruiting process.

The process begins in March, when Ramsey and his fellow coaches contact high school juniors via email and letters, asking them to fill out questionnaires. Those who are interested in Oberlin are invited to campus for visit days during the spring and summer. According to Ramsey, this initial process helps him gauge the interest level of potential applicants.

Unlike when he first inherited the football program in 1999, Ramsey now has other tools at his disposal to find and recruit talent to fill his roster. Collegiate Sports Data, for example, is an NCAA-approved online database of athletes across the country that contains information on both athletic and academic abilities such as player statistics, GPAs, and test scores.

Ramsey and his fellow coaches also attend camps across the country, which gather talented high school football players, to discover students they might have missed through the database. One camp that the Yeomen coaches regularly attend, the New England Elite Football Clinic in Boston, screens players academically, aiding Ramsey even further in the recruitment process.

On the other side of the recruitment process, prospective students have often discovered Oberlin through camps. First-year Justin Cruz, for example, first discovered Oberlin after a coach approached him at a camp at Stanford University. A Pleasanton, Calif., native, Cruz had not even considered Oberlin prior to this interaction. However, Cruz admited that football was not what ultimately drew him to Oberlin.

“I narrowed down my options based on academic level and I went to football camps to expose myself more,” he said.

Senior Zach Kisley agreed. Kisley, who also plays baseball for the Yeomen, was contacted by Division I schools to play baseball. Kisley believed that the main difference between the recruitment and decision process at Division I schools and Division III schools is the prioritization of academics at Division III schools.

“At D-I schools, you spend 70 to 80 percent of your time in the [athletic] program, and here we spend at most a third of our time with the [athletic] program,” Kisley said. “You really get sold on the school more than the [athletic] program.”

Ramsey understands the decision making players go through well.

“It’s not the Alabamas and the Ohio States [we compete with], but the Harvards and Yales and Davidsons,” said Ramsey.

Following that logic, Ramsey says he looks at much more than athletic ability when recruiting athletes. Beyond grades and test scores, Ramsey said he looks for good character.

“We recruit character as much as talent,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey and the other coaches get to know their recruits well before the season begins. They visit most potential Yeomen at home and meet all of them when they come to campus.

“I love going to make a campus visit to a prospect; I like walking down the hall with him, because then you see whether he’s a good guy or not by how people react to him,” said Ramsey.

Despite improving since he came to Oberlin, Ramsey still struggles to fill his roster.

“Three of the last four years have been really terrible for us,” Ramsey said. The team tries to draw walk-ons early on in the fall and still continues to field promising athletes who have never played football before. Though that often means Ramsey and veteran players have to do more work to get new players comfortable on the field, the results have proved fruitful. Seniors Connor Jackson and Gideon Reiz, for example, walked on to the team their first year and still continue to be valuable assets to the Yeomen.

As for players who have never set foot on a football field before, “the key is to keep them healthy and to keep them fresh,” said Ramsey.

Kisley believed his coaches have been improving their recruitment strategies.

“They’ve really stepped it up in terms of recruiting. My class, we came in with eight players, we have five seniors on the team now, but the sophomore class this year was 18 coming in,” Kisley said.

The results of a better recruiting strategy have certainly shown in the Yeomen’s results. After a historic win over Case Western Reserve University, the Yeomen may be entering a new chapter.