By ANDY WOLF
It’s been the coldest spring Rob Keys can remember as long as he’s been coaching.
But the spring practices must go on.
The University of Findlay football team will have its annual spring game 7 p.m. Saturday at Donnell Stadium. Admission to the game is free.
“It’s a chance for our guys to get more live reps and do it without coaching on the field, under the lights, plus the competitive spirit,” said Keys, now in his eighth season as head coach.
So far this spring, the Oilers have battled through a wintry, rainy mix of practice conditions — but mostly just cold.
“Every day we go out, it has not been a nice day,” Keys said. “We’ve had more snow and clouds than we’ve had sun. It was never this cold in the fall.”
The challenge is not so much getting out on the field, but trying to be productive as possible considering the weather.
Keys has adjusted their schedule accordingly with the weather and applauded his kids for showing up and competing.
“The competition level for the team has been really good,” Keys said. “There’s been some give and take. The offense has been better some days and the defense others but that competitive, good, quality competition and understanding we’re all on the same team has been great.”
He’ll carry that competitive format over into the spring game.
It’s offense vs. defense again.
The defense is spotted a 21-0 lead and can only score via takeaways.
The offense gets 12 drives to outscore the defense, split up six and six for the first and second teams battling their respective units.
The concept Keys installed last year proved to be a success with the game hinging on the final play and the defense prevailing 33-31.
Though, he recognized the risk of the game getting decided too early even then should the offense reel off consecutive touchdown drives.
“I like the way the defense is playing,” Keys said. “I think the offense is going to score some points but I can’t see them rattling off consecutive touchdowns.”
Largely, it’s because the Oilers have a wealth of proven talent coming back from a playoff tested team that finished 10-3.
They outscored their opponents 578-250 last season — with 142 points allowed in their three losses.
Keys said some momentum has definitely carried over after not only making their first Division II playoff appearance, but upsetting No. 2 Shepherd in the process.
“The 2018 team is not a playoff team; we have a chance to be,” Keys said. “They feel ‘Hey, we can accomplish this. We can play with anyone in the country.’
“This team has moved forward in a really good way. They’re not resting on what they did in ’17.”
Keys expressed excitement in the development of some young defensive linemen so far. The Oilers lost two very good ones in Ashton Elmore and Johnny Hopkins to graduation.
Still, the defense only graduates three of its top 20 tacklers off a unit that allowed 19.2 points per game — the best mark in the Keys era.
Keys is also anxious to see what his younger skill players are capable of doing.
“I feel this team, through the winter workouts and conditioning has impacted and created their identity of maybe what the 2018 team is going to be,” Keys said.
NOTES: At halftime, the Oilers will host local Special Olympians to compete in a punt, pass and kick competition with coaches and players assisting.
Keys said at least 20 competitors have already signed up.
Football: Spring game set for Saturday
By ANDY WOLF