By BRIAN LESTER
Expectations have been raised for the University of Findlay football team. The Oilers closed the 2013 season with four consecutive wins to finish 8-3 overall and 7-3 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Findlay turned that momentum into motivation for the offseason, including spring practice, which wraps up at 2 p.m. Saturday with the spring game at Donnell Stadium.
“That (finish) played a big part in our offseason,” senior quarterback Verlon Reed said. “We’ve never had a win streak more than three. To get the last four was a big deal. We’ve set the standard high for this year, and we want to make the most of every opportunity.”
UF head coach Rob Keys, who is entering his fourth season with the Oilers and has led UF to 21 wins over the last three years, said the wins of a year ago matter little now, although the success has served as inspiration in practice.
“The 2014 team is a totally different football team,” Keys said. “The only thing that helps from last year is that our guys are hungry. They saw success, won some big games and saw how close they were to being one of the top teams in the league.”
One of the keys to building on that success will be the play at quarterback. Reed, a transfer from Ohio State, was the starter for seven games before injuring his thumb in the teams 41-21 nationally-televised loss to Ohio Dominican last October.
Reed played the rest of the year at receiver. Senior signal caller Devontae Payne, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, started the final four games. He wasn’t sacked and did not turn the ball over in his four starts.
Reed threw for 1,791 yards and 11 touchdowns while catching five passes for 152 yards and two scores. Payne threw for 857 yards and nine TDs, including two to Reed. Junior Jesse Slone has also shown signs of promise in the quarterback competition.
“The thing about Verlon and Devontae is they are close friends,” Keys said. “They compete in the right way and help each other out. There is no cut-throat competition. They both want what is best for the team.”
Reed said he’s glad to be back at quarterback and is doing what he can to be in a position to help the Oilers run their offense effectively. A year ago, UF cranked out 504.5 yards per game and scored 30 or more 10 times. The Oilers seven of their last eight games.
“Just to have an opportunity to compete for the quarterback spot makes me work hard every day. I want to make the most of it,” Reed said. “We’ve been harping on the little things. We have great players on offense, but if we don’t do the little things right, we won’t be successful.”
Keys said the defense has also made strides. The Oilers allowed 427.7 yards per game but held each of their last four opponents to less than 400 yards. Defensive back Harold Jones-Quartey is the top returning tackler with 92 tackles. He also picked off a pass in three of the last four games.
“Fundamentals have been the biggest emphasis,” Keys said. “Our guys are doing so much better at the basic skills. They believe what they are seeing with their eyes, they are getting off blocks better and they have improved their tackling. Our confidence level is also better.”
While the Oilers have put in a a lot of work over the spring, the game on Saturday is more about having fun. Fifth-year seniors Torrence Garland and Nate Morris were selected to pick teams and the pick the coaches for each team.
“Our philosophy has been to go hard every single day up until the spring game,” Keys said. “The spring game is about having fun. The guys have been going back and forth about it. There are high stakes. We’re looking forward to having fun with it.”
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