The schedule looks a little different, but Braves football will still be getting plenty of game reps before the season opener.
For the first time in his 15-year career, Ottawa University head football coach Kent Kessinger will trade his normal intra-squad scrimmage for a trip to Missouri Valley College Aug. 25 in Marshall, Missouri. The two teams will scrimmage starting at 10 a.m., kicking off the first action of the year for Braves football.
The scrimmage takes the place of a non-conference game for OU, which will play 10 games — all conference — starting 7 p.m. Sept. 1 at Bethel College in North Newton.
Originally, the Ottawa coaching staff was looking at playing Baker University on Aug. 25, but Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference rules didn’t allow enough practice time for the team before that date, Kessinger said. That is when the team reached out to Missouri Valley.
“It is an opportunity to play with officials and give us a ‘game’ under our belt as we head into our KCAC season,” Kessinger said. “It is an opportunity to evaluate some of these guys in a game situation so we have a better idea of what we need to continue to coach them on as they grow and mature within our program.”
As Kessinger noted at the KCAC Football Media Day, Ottawa finished a dissapointing 3-8 last year in a season marred by injuries. Playing in a scrimmage versus a live game will allow the team’s coaching staff to evaluate players in a controlled environment, he said. The scrimmage will be broken down into multiple parts, including passing skeleton (quarterbacks, running backs and receivers versus defensive backs), and situations reps. Quarterbacks won’t be live (cannot be hit or tackled).
That will be big for the Braves with quarterback being one of the key position battles this preseason. Junior transfers Spenser Lewis out of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Conner Kaegi out of Ashland, Oregon will get a close look by the coaching staff when they go under center against Missouri Valley. Lewis is a transfer from Avila University, which joins the KCAC starting this season, and Kaegi is a JUCO transfer out of Arizona Western College.
“It will be their opportunity to run our stuff at game speed,” Kessinger said. “We try to simulate that as much as possible in practice, but you are doing it four or five reps at a time and switching groups so you can even out the reps to where kids are developing. It is going to be interesting to get them on the field, have them run the series, come back off and talk about what adjustments need to be made and get them back out again. To be able to have those quarterbacks do that will serve us well. We’ve got places in the offensive and defensive line, secondary that are all new guys for us that will need that as well.”
While not playing a non-conference game will be a change of pace from previous seasons, Ottawa’s roster full of young talent will get plenty of reps. The team roster boasts 41 in its freshmen class, the most players by far (20 seniors, 26 juniors and 18 sophomores) according to ottawabraves.com
“We were looking for a controlled environment instead of a non-conference game before getting into the KCAC,” Kessinger said. “I’m looking at it like an NFL coach would prepping for the NFL season. We are going to get a couple of good series with our first string guys and then pull them out, get our second string guys in and pull them out to let the young guys get in. That is something we want to do is bring on some of those young guys because they want to play and show the coaches what they can do. It is nice to be able to see live and in person how true freshmen are picking up your stuff and how they are reacting to a game situation.”
Following their season opener at Bethel, the Braves return home for a 6 p.m. showdown Sept. 8 against the University of Saint Mary.