OU football adapts to pandemic situation

Greg Mast
Ottawa University sophomore running back Derrick Curtis follows the blocks of the offensive lineman against Oklahoma Panhandle State University in the season opener on Sept. 12.

The 2020 football season is unique, playing under pandemic conditions.

High school, college and the NFL have been in constant adapt mode. The NAIA and KCAC built in contingency plans by extending fall athletic seasons into the spring.

That turned out to be good move, with five schools playing just two or less football games so far.

The Ottawa University football team is coming off a three-week quarantine because of COVID-19 concerns. The squad opened the season Sept. 12 with a win over Oklahoma Panhandle State University and have been sidelined since.

The next three games were postponed as well as Saturday’s game in Kansas City against Avila.

Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger welcomed the players to practice this week.

“You can tell we have not done anything for three weeks,” Kessinger said. “It is getting everybody back up to playing football again.”

Kessinger said the reason for moving Saturday’s game with Avila to March 2021 was for player safety.

He said that during the quarantine there were no practices and a little bit of in-room workouts.

“We talked about a lot of stuff in meetings over the last three weeks,” he said. “We met with the guys every day. It is not the same as playing football. (Last) week we were able to get out and run for about 20 minutes.”

Kessinger said it is like starting the season over.

“They had some pretty decent retention,” he said. “It is a lot getting lined up, getting into the right place, and being able to move. Go two or three plays without having to stop and gasp for air.

“We knew late last week that most likely were not going to be playing this game, so as a coaching staff what we decided to do, we were going to take a look at it like a bye week and early fall camp. We are trying to get back into some playing shape.”

The Braves returned to the basics this week.

“It will build up through this week,” Kessinger said. “We have been able to do some football stuff. It is a lot better than sitting and staring at walls.”

Kessinger said gaining stamina is built in their practices.

“The fortunate thing for us is our practices are built around tempo,” he said. “We don’t have to spend 20 minutes running lines. It is built into the practice reps. Unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of depth. The guys that are getting reps are getting a lot of reps.”

Kessinger said not all the players have returned to practice yet.

“We went into quarantine as a team, but you have to work with (players) individually,” Kessinger said. “If a kid was to get sick during the time we were in quarantine, then potentially they start a different clock. Everybody has all these different clocks. By the time we get to the early part of next week, we will have (them) back.”

The Braves are attempting to use the extra practice time wisely.

“We are trying to be smart with our time,” Kessinger said. “We are going back to the basics. Defensively, you have three things that you have to make sure you are good at. One of them is making sure you are gap sound. You always try to take away the run first. Then you have to be able to cover. We are working to get the basics back on our coverage schemes and our checks.

“We always try to teach (defending) the option. We have an option team coming up down the road. We are taking advantage of being able to review some of those.

“Offensively, we are looking at a bunch of multiple fronts. The next three weeks we are playing three or four different fronts.”

Kessinger said coaches are experimenting with different schemes and plays during this two-week practice time.

“It gives us time over the next couple of weeks to try things that we might want to implement,” he said. “We are trying to build depth. Especially this year because you never know when a kid will get stuck in quarantine.”


Ottawa returns to the field next Saturday against McPherson, 3-1. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at AdventHealth Field.

“McPherson is a team we have broken down a little bit,” Kessinger said. “No matter who you are playing, you always look to see where our schemes best fit. We looked at McPherson and how they were playing different coverages. They are a pressure team. They like to bring a lot of pressure.”

McPherson, which has yet to have any COVID-19 issues, still has been in adaptive mode the past couple of weeks. The Bulldogs’ starting quarterback was injured and it changed their offense.

“They are a little more run heavy because they lost their quarterback in the third game of the season,” Kessinger said. “When he was their starter, they were slinging it around. They have a really, really big back. They are going to pound it.”

With the postponements, Ottawa’s schedule has been extended into the spring with four games set for March.

Here is the updated schedule:

Oct. 17 McPherson

Oct. 24 at Bethel

Oct. 31 at Saint Mary

Nov. 7 Sterling

Nov, 14 at Kansas Wesleyan

Nov. 21 Tabor

March 6 at Friends

March 13 Bethany

March 20 Southwestern

March 27 at Avila