The Scots football team has added an additional color this year — gray.
Twenty players, part of a new program designed to develop and hone their skills for next semester and season, have been playfully dubbed “the gray shirts.”
“[The gray shirts are] a developmental team for players, who, for whatever reason, need a little more preparation,” said Mike Rader, head coach of the Scots football team.
The program received some controversial attention after a rumored 100 players were a part of the 2013 recruiting class.
Rader defended the number by pointing to the end of last season when the Scots football program’s numbers were dwindling.
“We were down to less than 80 healthy players on the roster,” Rader said. “That’s a scary place to be, depth-wise.”
Rader and his coaching staff knew they had their work cut out for them to build and grow the team.
Over the summer, the staff gave campus tours to 500 recruits in their attempts to strengthen the team’s size and skill level.
“At one time, we had 104 deposits,” Rader said.
However, that number never materialized.
Currently, there are 134 total players, 78 of which are freshmen.
Along with a handful of upperclassmen, 15 of those are part of the developmental team.
Due to the fact that the developmental players do not practice with the team, the NCAA does not recognize them as eligible for competition.
Instead, the gray shirts team is enrolled in a strength and conditioning class designed to give them a solid foundation for next semester.
Rader said he believes this is in the players’ best interests.
“This gives them the opportunity to get their feet wet without being thrown to the rigors of both academics and football,” Rader said.
And, although he admits it has its kinks, as all first-time endeavors do, Rader said the program has been relatively successful thus far.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares Rader’s sentiment.
“I’ve been playing football since, well, as far back as I can remember,” said one developmental player. “[Not playing] is really weird.”
Other members share his frustrations and said they feel as though they are not really part of the team.
Though it is true they do not participate in traditional team activities or suit up for games, Rader insisted these players are indeed on the team, or at least will have the opportunity come the end of the semester to officially join the squad.
Ultimately, the decision to create and implement this program comes down to an attempt to deal with the numerous unknowns that come with coaching at the Division III level.
“There’s nothing holding these guys here. You never know who you’re going to lose,” Rader said. “Money, family and personal issues all affect a player’s decision to stay.”
This, according to Rader, is why he strives to create a football program based on relationships.
Relationships among players, coaches and faculty that will be meaningful and nurturing in order to foster a greater sense of purpose, is Rader’s goal.
This program simply adds an additional layer of connections.
Though they may not be taking the field on game day, the “gray shirts” exemplify what being a student and athlete at Maryville College is all about: continually persevering to achieve a higher level of success, on the field, in the class and out in community.