WICHITA — Kent Kessinger wants more big plays from the offense this year.
That was a big message from Ottawa University’s head football coach at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference 2017 Football Media Day Thursday at the Hotel at Old Town in Wichita.
Kessinger, entering his 14th season as a Brave, is the longest tenured current coach in KCAC football, and began his press conference at Media Day by jokingly stating, “I win survivor.”
Things took a more serious tone when discussing the 2017 season. Ottawa was 4-7 (4-5 KCAC) last year, suffering its first losing season since 2007. The Braves were voted fifth out of 10 teams in both the coaches and media preseason poll.
“Offensively, I look at where we are at, and yardage wise we were pretty good,” Kessinger said. “But as I reflect back on what we did, we just didn’t have the big plays that we’ve made in the past. We were very up and down. We would go from scoring no points to 56 points, and be anywhere in between.”
Ottawa averaged nearly 400 yards of offense per game last season, 198.5 of those on average coming via its ground attack. The Braves return eight offensive starters, including their top two leading rushers from last season — Conner Byers, sophomore quarterback, and Ethan Paul-Davis, junior running back. Kessinger welcomes new offensive coordinator Curran White, and former All-American wide receiver turned graduate assistant coach Clarence Anderson to his staff this year.
“We weren’t very consistent in the passing game,” Kessinger said. “I think our strength was we had some guys who could run the football. I think we are athletic at quarterback, and we will be able to build upon that. Coach White comes into our system here towards the end of spring and beginning of summer, so we are kind of coordinating together this year, but the goal is to be able to create some more big plays. We are kind of putting the helium back in the football, if you know what I mean.”
Defensively, Ottawa allowed 32.5 points per game in 2016. The pass defense was especially susceptible, allowing 244 passing yards per game, and a 19-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“Defensively is where I think we’ve hopefully been able to upgrade a little bit,” Kessinger said. “We will have 12 total transfers coming in that are going to help us out defensively. Coach [Thomas] Pearson [defensive coordinator] was kind of fighting with one arm behind his back, particularly in our secondary this last year. Hopefully that is an upgrade for us.”
Kessinger also noted the program’s mission to recruit within the area. He said between Kansas and Missouri, the Braves currently have 68 players.
“One thing we try to do is recruit as local as we possibly can,” Kessinger said. “I was doing a little research to look where our kids our from. When I first got to Ottawa, I inherited a program that didn’t have very many numbers. As a matter of fact, we started with 52 total guys that season. We’re not in that situation anymore, and we have more guys from Kansas than we did on our team at that point.”
Ottawa’s season opener is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 2 at home against Northwestern College.
Media Preseason Poll
• First place votes in parenthesis
1. Tabor College 214 (18)
2. Kansas Wesleyan University 187 (3)
3. Sterling College 171 (1)
4. University of Saint Mary 145
5. Ottawa University 134
6. Friends University 112
7. Bethel College 83
8. Bethany College 63
9. McPherson College 51
10. Southwestern College 50
Coaches Preseason Poll
1. Tabor College 79 (8)
2. Sterling College 71
3. Kansas Wesleyan University 65 (2)
4. University of Saint Mary 56
5. Ottawa University 54
6. Bethel College 28
7. Friends University 26
8. Bethany College 25
9. McPherson College 24
10. Southwestern College 22