. It wasn’t until six months after he graduated that R.J. Maki ’11 faced the most hectic day of his action packed Sagehen athletic career.
He began that fall-semester Saturday in his role as a wide receivers coach for the Pomona-Pitzer football team while the Sagehens battled Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the season’s big rivalry game. Then, when the final horn blew around 4 p.m., he went straight to his car and drove the 60 miles across the Los Angeles Basin to play for the basketball team against Division I Pepperdine University.
Maki managed to make it to Malibu on time. His uniform didn’t.
“One of my teammates was supposed to bring my jersey for me, since I couldn’t go on the team bus,” Maki says. “Then I got to Pepperdine, and unfortunately he had forgotten it. So I had to call Jake [Caron PI ’11], and he drove it up to Malibu and finally got it to me just before halftime.” Maki ended up playing six minutes in the second half, as the Sagehens gave the Waves a run for their money before falling 59-50. “I can’t say too many people have ever had a day like that,” says Maki.
Maki had graduated from Pomona in May 2011 with a degree in sociology, but there were two things that were still unfinished in Claremont: an M.B.A. from the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University and one more season of basketball eligibility, since he missed one season due to an injury. He took a graduate assistant position with the football team, and once basketball practice started in October, his staff locker also became filled with practice gear.
The jersey run wasn’t the only time that Jake Caron has delivered something to Maki over the years. They grew up together in Claremont, attending Pomona-Pitzer games and serving as ball boys at home basketball games. The two friends left the Claremont bubble to attend Cheshire Academy in Connecticut during high school, but both returned home for college, with Caron at Pitzer and Maki at Pomona.
“When I left, it wasn’t my plan to come back necessarily,” says Maki. “But when I gained exposure to the East Coast schools … I saw how similar Pomona was. And it had the added benefit of being right in my hometown.”
The two were four-year teammates in Pomona-Pitzer football, with Caron breaking the school’s record for passing yards as a quarterback (8,408 career yards) and Maki setting the program’s receiving records (276 catches for 3,078 yards).
After coaching in the fall, Caron signed on with the Utah Blaze in arena football, while Maki multitasked in Claremont. The final basketball season turned out to be well worth it for Maki, as the Sagehens bounced back from a down year in 2010-11 and finished a close second in the SCIAC, losing the conference championship game to CMS in a nail-biter before a crowd of 2,470. That was despite having a young team that relied heavily on freshmen and sophomores.
“I wanted to do well and prove to everybody, myself included, that I could be part of a successful team,” says Maki, who played in all 26 games for his final season and scored a career-high 101 points. Freshman guard Kyle McAndrews ’15 has praise for Maki: “R.J. was able to help me, through his example and through his advice, adjust to the collegiate level.”
In helping to coach football, Maki had a chance to work with sophomore receiver Ryan Randle ’14, who made big strides as a passing target, finishing with 40 catches for 470 yards and seven touchdowns.
Maki also leaves behind his own football records that will be very difficult to beat. Though he acknowledges that he—like everyone on the football team—would have liked to have won more games during his career, it’s a sacrifice that he’s more than willing to accept for the big picture.
“There’s no way I’d trade my experience at Pomona for a few more wins,” says Maki, who has moved to San Diego to work for a private banking/wealth management firm after completing his M.B.A. a year early under a special program. “I loved my time here. The thing about Pomona is that people value athletics, but academics always comes first, and I think everyone who plays here has everything in the right perspective. No matter what happens, we’re always proud to wear the jersey and represent our school.”
Even if the jersey arrives late.