After ending the 2013 season with a grueling two-game losing streak against Tabor College, 23-20, and national champion Grand View University, Iowa, 38-13, at the NAIA Football Championship Series, the Ottawa squad looked to use the summer and those losses as motivation to prepare for the 2014 season.
“Having four captains stay in Ottawa this summer to lead workouts will aid in our team getting together,” junior running back Dexter Hayes said. “Coaches had organized workouts that not only push us physically, but mentally as well. From the first day of spring ball until now, the main goal has been to finish. That is the term we have chosen to live by to prepare us for our national championship journey for this upcoming season ... ‘Finish’.
“Those two losses were tough. Watching a conference championship slip away from us and as well as losing our chance to host the first round of the playoffs, then losing to the national champions, left us with a bitter taste.”
With new talent and returning leaders, the Braves look stronger than ever.
“We will have a recruiting class around 40 players this fall and many of them have the potential to compete for playing time right away,” 11th-year Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said. “On paper, this class is very solid and we expect great things from them as they play out their career at OU.”
Football season is right around the corner and the Braves are feeling confident and anxious about this upcoming season. New players report Monday with full squad workouts set for Wednesday.
The anticipation to get out on the field every Saturday, in hopes of gaining the conference championship and returning to the NAIA playoffs is enough for them to lose sleep over.
Year after year, the goals remain the same for the Ottawa football team.
“It has been our program’s goal to compete annually for the KCAC championship and have an opportunity to represent OU and our conference in the playoffs,” Kessinger said. “I feel that we have the potential to do that again this season. What I have learned being associated with a number of successful programs is that having clearly stated goals, that are realistic and putting the hard work into reaching those goals determines the level of success you can attain.
“Hard work trumps talent especially when talent doesn’t work and we feel that we have a team of hard workers, who also have a good deal of talent. Football is a sport in which the better your team gets, the more the successful you will be. The burden of that will fall on our upperclassmen as they lead their fellow teammates.”
No. 14 Ottawa kicks off the season at home Sept. 6 against rival Baker, which is ranked No. 5 in the NAIA spring poll.