By ANDY WOLF
It’s always football season to Rob Keys.
Coaching the University of Findlay football team is a 365-day-a-year job.
But the Oilers haven’t played a game in 280 days.
“It’s always exciting to get the first game in, there’s no doubt,” Keys said. “There’s always a overwhelming anticipation to start the season.”
Thankfully, Findlay has an opponent to focus on this week in Kentucky Wesleyan.
The Oilers and the Panthers will open with a Great Midwest Athletic Conference game 2 p.m. Saturday at Steele Stadium in Owensboro, Kentucky.
The anticipation is ever prevalent amongst the players, too.
“It feels like it’s right there,” junior running back Michael Campbell said. “I’m just patiently waiting right now.’
Here’s a few things to know about Saturday’s game:
2017 RECAP: Findlay and Kentucky Wesleyan’s respective seasons went in opposite directions.
The Oilers stood 9-2 overall, 6-1 in the GMAC, after the regular season and were playoff bound as the last team in for Super Region One.
The Panthers nearly mirrored that mark at 2-8, 1-6 with wins over Livingstone College and Malone, which combined to go 1-19.
Findlay’s season ended two weeks later after a 29-17 playoff win over No. 2 Shepherd and a loss at Assumption (45-26).
COACHING CHANGES: Keys enters his eighth season as head coach and is 48-30.
It’s his first, however, without offensive coordinator Troy Rothenbuhler who took a job as quality control coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
Kory Allen, UF’s offensive line coach for the last 13 seasons, takes over as offensive coordinator.
The Oilers averaged 30 points per game in each of the last six seasons including a program best 44.5 points per game last season. They also led the nation with 359 first downs.
“Kory is not Troy and Troy is not Kory,” Keys said. “They’ve worked great together. They had a phenomenal run in seven years.”
“I’m excited for coach Allen to get the opportunity to call the plays for the first time and there’s no doubt his demeanor is a little different than Troy’s. Not good, not bad in any way; they’re different.”
Meanwhile, longtime KWC head coach Brent Holsclaw resigned, effective July 31.
The Panthers were 41-119 in 15 years under Holsclaw.
Defensive coordinator Taurean Smith adopted the interim tag and will lead KWC this season.
QB VETS: There’s hardly a UF passing record that fourth-year starter Rhys Gervais doesn’t own.
As historic of a program as the Oilers have, winning four NAIA national titles, they didn’t start throwing the ball 200-plus times per game until the late 1990s.
A career 63.3 percent passer, Gervais has 85 touchdowns compared to 30 interceptions.
His 230.7 yards per game marked a career low last season, but only because the Oilers routinely ran up big leads in GMAC play and were able to run the game out.
He’ll again be amongst the nation’s best in efficiency rating.
“He’s very confident in his ability and he believes in the people around him and gets the best out of them,” Keys said.
KWC’s Mark McGee (231.9 ypg) is a second-year starter and totaled 22 touchdowns to 14 interceptions last year.
BACKS: For a rushing attack that only averaged 2.6 yards per carry, Kentucky Wesleyan showed some promise in freshman Corey Johnson (5-foot-11, 185 pounds).
Johnson recorded 515 of his team’s 756 rushing yards at a clip of 4.4 per carry but no touchdowns.
“He’s a complete running back that gives us a challenge,” Keys said.
UF returns a stable of productive backs.
Daouda Sylla graduated after an All-American season of 1,554 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Campbell filled in for the injured Chauncey Bridges and took advantage of his touches. In 10 games, he ran for 870 yards (6.4 ypc) and 15 TDs while catching another pass for a 76-yard score.
“The experience and the confidence I gained from playing last year helped me see certain things I haven’t seen in a real game,” Campbell said. “It helps me out to be more patient in the what I need to do.”
Bridges is back for another season and has 2,511 career rushing yards. He only appeared in three games in 2017.
Boston College transfer Richard Wilson (5-10, 234), a junior, is also in the mix, as well as sophomores Demondre Blanks, Brian Benson and Lance Mitchell.
“We all talk together,” Campbell said. “Whoever is in the game, they know what they have to do and do it well to their best of their abilities. All of our running backs can do great things back there.”