By BRIAN LESTER
Rain delayed the start of camp for the University of Findlay football team on Monday, but that was the only hitch for the Oilers as they began preparation for a season of lofty goals and high expectations.
As clouds gave way to sunlight on a cool August evening, creating ideal conditions for practice, the Oilers hit the turf of Donnell Stadium ready to go to work.
“The whole month of July and start of August, we didn’t get a drop of rain,” fourth-year UF head coach Rob Keys said. “Every day was perfect. I played a lot of golf in that time. But we get to the first day of practice and it’s lightning and pouring down rain. Our schedule dramatically changed, but the thing about our guys is they are a resilient and adaptable bunch.”
The Oilers were supposed to practice at the Armstrong Athletic Complex, but the wet weather forced a three-hour delay and a change of venue.
It didn’t matter. The Oilers took a business-like approach to the three-hour practice, running plays and doing various drills as they did their best to maximize their time.
“It’s been a long time coming to get back out here,” senior quarterback Verlon Reed said. “We have to clock in every single day and do everything we need to do, whether it’s film, getting the weight room, and especially on the field.”
Reed is one of 18 seniors on an Oilers team that went 8-3 a year ago and came within a victory of clinching a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in program history.
Reed, a transfer from Ohio State where he played wide receiver, played in seven games at quarterback a year ago for UF before injuring his thumb. He threw for 1,791 yards and 11 touchdowns, helping to fuel an offense that cranked out 504.5 yards per game and averaged nearly 40 points (37.9) per game.
Reed, an honorable mention All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection, will be pushed in camp by former Ada standout Mitchell Faine and Jesse Slone.
“I’m definitely more comfortable with the offense and I have a stronger bond with my teammates now,” Reed said. “Everyone is comfortable out on the field with what we are doing and I’m able to fly around and do my job without thinking too much.”
The fact that he Oilers do have veteran leadership at each position has made a world of difference in terms of how practices are run. It also didn’t hurt that junior running back Daiquone Ford was back on the field.
Ford tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 10 last season but still managed to finish third in the country in rushing average (178.9) as he was named a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Award, the D-II equivalent of the Heisman.
Ford looked like his old self as he ran the ball during practice and also provided leadership to the younger running backs.
The Oilers, coming off their third consecutive winning season, weren’t perfect on day one, but Keys didn’t have too many complaints.
“I like the way practice went for the first day,” Keys said. “The energy was high and we kept a good pace and had good tempo. That is a good sign. I saw flashes at times on both sides of the ball. The key is to be consistent in practice every day.”
UF has a lot to cram in this week as NCAA rules have shortened the amount of time a team can practice before school starts. Camp ends Sunday and the Oilers begin classes Monday. Keys will get his first look at his team in full pads on Friday.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on being all-in and doing a lot of timing work right now,” Keys said. “Friday and Saturday will be big for us. Once they are in pads, we can go through the film with a fine-tooth comb and start to look at the pieces more and figure out what we need to do to be ready to play on game day.”
The Oilers are 25 days away from the season opener as they will battle GLIAC opponent Hillsdale College at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Donnell Stadium. They will enter the season riding a four-game win streak.
And while there were plenty of encouraging signs on day one, the Oilers are a long way from accomplishing their ultimate goals, which includes contending for a conference championship.
“It’s going to be a grind, and we have to continue to work hard to reach our full potential,” Reed said. “We don’t want to look ahead. Our main focus is Hillsdale right now. But we also know what the bigger picture is. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
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