By BRIAN LESTER
Maybe it was a little chilly Sunday night under the lights at Donnell Stadium, but the chill in the early April air did nothing to keep the University of Findlay from doing work on the field.
The Oilers were as spirited as could be, going through another spring practice with a purpose. It was all business-like for the Oilers. The practice was competitive, competitive to the point where even the field goal kicking drills were amped up to another level.
But it has to be that way for the Oilers, who are coming off an 8-3 season the ended with four consecutive victories. Teams that want to be among the best, especially in the rugged Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, don’t get complacent. They just get better. Sure, 8-3 was great, but that 2013 season is history.
“I told the guys we had a winning season, but it’s in the past. It’s irrelevant,” UF head coach Rob Keys said. “The 2014 team is a totally different team. Our guys are hungry. They saw the success we had last year. We won big games and saw how close we were to being one of the top teams in the league.”
Indeed, one more win here or there, and we are talking about the playoffs. Yes, the Oilers were that close to making their first trip to the postseason in the NCAA Division II era of the program.
And as quarterback Verlon Reed told me, that success “played a big part in our work in the offseason.”
Reed added, “To get the last four (wins) was a big deal. Now, we have to move on and get ready for the upcoming season.”
And getting ready means making the most of spring practice. It starts with doing the little things right.
“We have guys all over this offense that can make big plays, but it’s not going to occur if we don’t do the little things right,” Reed said. “We are focused on the small things and working every day to get better.”
Keys said the defense has improved as well and has focused a great deal on the fundamentals being good on the defensive side of the ball.
Keys, who is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Oilers after winning 21 games in his first three seasons, has also been impressed with the way his team has battled the elements of a winter that doesn’t want to go away.
Officially, it’s spring. At least if you believe the calendar. But Keys told me Sunday night that there was one practice in March where it was the coldest practice he has been a part of, as a coach or as a player. And Keys has been going to practices since he was 5-years-old.
“Spring ball has been difficult from a weather standpoint, but to watch the guys focus when the weather has been bad, tells me a little about the maturity level of the team.”
Overall, though, spring practice has been a success, just as the offseason has been as a whole. The spring game is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Donnell Stadium. It’s the final time the Oilers will be on a field playing football until August. That is when the preparation begins for the games that count.
Expectations will be high and the Oilers like it that way.
“We want the high expectations,” Reed said. “The higher they are, the harder we work. We are working hard each day, and we want to make the most of every opportunity we have to get better as a team.”
Follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.