The Ottawa University football team is working around several distractions in its first week of practice.
Braves football coach Kent Kessinger said this is a different fall camp than he has ever experienced because of the virus and other things.
"With school starting earlier, we are working around classes a lot sooner than we would have," Kessinger said. "We don’t have as much time where we would have been able to dedicate strictly to teaching the game and doing some slow down practices where we would walk through stuff. We have to work around a much busier schedule for the student-athlete."
Plus the staff and players are practicing under the coronavirus guidelines. All the players and staff are wearing masks and splitting into small groups with less contact.
"There are so many things different that you normally would have seen on a football field, where guys come together and we have a team break now, we do it from six-feet," Kessinger said. "We wear masks at practice. I applaud our guys how they have transitioned with that. We are on schedule. Part of the schedule, we adjust to see how the kids are picking up what we are doing. We have built-in review days. We have a lot of new kids too."
The coaching staff has two extra weeks to prepare before the first game on Sept. 19 at home against Sterling College.
Kessinger said the extra time is needed to get everybody up to speed on their schemes. The virus also shut down spring ball, which hurt development, Kessinger said.
"The thing that hurt us not having spring football, we did not have a chance to develop some timing with one of our transfer quarterbacks," he said. "They are all on the same page. They are all on equal footing. We are going to have to accelerate in getting to know each other."
He said that first few games, the staff may need to pare things down for the inexperienced quarterbacks and other new players.
"We try to immerse them pretty deep in what we are doing so they get an idea of what it is going to be like," Kessinger said. "With our offensive style being up tempo, we don’t start off slow. We start off fast so they get used to the speed and we don’t have to try to encourage more and more speed on the practice field. That is quite a transition for some of them. We have some young kids that will be given (the opportunity) to play pivotal roles in our schemes. They are learning a lot."
Most years, the offense trails the defense early in the season, but this year the defense may have to carry the offense longer.
"There is so much timing," Kessinger said. "When you have 11 people out there and there are 11 moving parts, you have to get them to act as one."
Kessinger likes the attitude and work ethic of the players so far.
"I have been pretty happy with the effort that are guys are giving," he said. "Our upperclassmen are doing an outstanding job of help teach the young guys. Hopefully as we get into the second week (of practice), we will see a big change in the whole total knowledge, especially with our new kids."
Ottawa expects to be more athletic than last season, Kessinger said.
"We have some pretty good athletes," he said. "We had a whole week where our strength staff conditioned (before fall camp)," Kessinger said. "We got to watch them run. It gave us a gauge of where we were in regards to conditioning. It allowed us to sit back as coaches observe and watch our kids move. There was some pretty encouraging things we saw with some of our kids. It looks like we have substantial more athletic team than we did a year ago."
Kessinger said the college football landscape right now is in flux and the Braves feel lucky to be playing.
"There are a lot of uncertainties out there right now," he said. "Our hopes are if we keep on doing what we are doing, we will have that fortunate opportunity to be able to play. A lot of people aren’t. Hopefully we can mitigate the situation and get ourselves into it."