There is a group of people at the University of Richmond that often goes unnoticed. They go to classes, lodges, the dining hall and even live in the dorms, but they are the smallest class on campus. They are the fifth-year senior athletes.
Athletes that opt to take a fifth year at Richmond do so for one of two reasons. In both scenarios, the player does what is known as "redshirting." The player might get injured, forcing him or her to sit out for a season.
But, he or she may wish to extend his or her eligibility past four seasons.
In the other scenario, the player might join the team without being fully developed or prepared to play during competition and sit out for his/her first season of play. The latter is a popular reason for players on a team with a larger squad, like football.
Casey Cooley, a defensive lineman for the Spiders, is a redshirt player in his fifth year on the football team.
"Being a redshirt was a very rewarding experience," Cooley said. "As a freshman you usually do not have the physical attributes to play the right way, so it allows you to catch up by lifting almost every day as well as practicing with the team."
Martin Parker is a defensive tackle and a fellow fifth-year redshirt player. He said that the option allowed freshmen to develop both physically as a player and socially as a Richmond student.
"It gives the players a chance to get used to the college setting and to find their place on campus when it comes to academics and life outside of football," Parker said. Parker, like many others, needed that first year to develop before he could fully contribute to his team during competition.
Cooley and Parker are two of the 53 football players who are listed as redshirt players, which composes the majority of the 83 players on the team. Deputy athletic director David Walsh said that this was unique to the football team.
"Football is really the only program that sometimes chooses to redshirt a freshman student-athlete," Walsh said. "All other programs encourage student-athletes to complete their eligibility and graduate within eight semesters."
Other athletes on smaller teams, like basketball, usually choose to redshirt because of injury.
Kevin Hovde is one of those unusual cases. He opted to take a fifth year after he broke his ankle during the first practice last year. It was just the beginning of what would have been his last season playing for the Spiders. But after petitioning for medical hardship, he was able to extend his time to ensure he played for four full seasons. He said he had enjoyed all the years on the team, despite having to sit out for a season.
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"Obviously the experience has been awesome," he said. "Playing Division I basketball has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid."
A fifth year has also allowed him to pursue a rare academic opportunity.
"A lot of fifth-year athletes will stretch out their undergraduate [courses] to five years," he said. "But since I got hurt my senior year, I only needed about six more classes to graduate. So, the best situation for me was a master's in liberal arts."
Hovde wants to finish the master's program by the end of next summer.
"My focus is how sports have influenced the western world," he said. He said he hoped to incorporate the degree into a career as a coach after graduating from Richmond.
Samantha Bilney can relate to Hovde. Bilney is a redshirt junior and a forward on the women's basketball team. After tearing her ACL in her right knee for a third time she was forced to sit out during her sophomore season.
"I wanted to stay really involved when I was hurt because I knew I was going to be around for a while," Bilney said. "I still had three years left."
She said she had stayed active on the sidelines by becoming a motivational leader to the women.
"It was a learning process whether I was actually playing or just watching," Bilney said.
Being a redshirted player was positive for Bilney, too.
"I think it's more of an opportunity than a setback," she said. "Athletically, it's a great option because all the years that I've worked weren't lost."
Bilney said playing Division I basketball had been her dream since she had been seven years old and redshirting had helped her fully accomplish that goal. She is weeks away from being cleared to play at the level she needs to compete in games and to help the Spiders pursue their goal of making it to the NCAA tournament.
Contact staff writer Julia Pepe at firstname.lastname@example.org
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