A new era dawns as collegiate football returns to southern Indiana, as the Oakland City University sprint football team has arrived on campus ready to kick off the inaugural 2023 season. It will be the first time a college football team has competed in southern Indiana since the University of Evansville discontinued their program in 1997.
The last record of Oakland City University, then Oakland City College, fielding an official football team was in 1942. The Mighty Oaks had a program team in the 1920s and 1930s, but with World War II taking most of the male student population away, the football program was discontinued.
An attempt to revive the team was made during the 1971 year, when a group of students competed as an intramural program against other local college and recreational teams, playing their home games at the Wood Memorial High School football field on Sunday afternoons. Playing full contact without pads or equipment, the unofficial team went undefeated on the year, defeating teams from Winslow, Holland, Petersburg, Tell City, Fort Branch, the University of Evansville, and Indiana State University Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana), to name a few.
The 2023 Mighty Oaks will join the Midwest Sprint Football League in the conference’s second season of competition, entering with fellow newcomer Walsh University (North Canton, OH) to create an eight-team league. Last season, the six teams making up the MSFL were Fontbonne University (St. Louis, MO), Quincy University (Quincy, IL), St. Mary-of-the-Woods College (Terre Haute, IN), Calumet College of St. Joseph (Hammond, IN), Midway University (Midway, KY), and Bellarmine University (Louisville, KY).
T-Ray Fletcher, OCU Athletic Director, stated, “Sprint football is an emerging sport, not just in America, but in the NAIA, and small colleges in our area. We are excited to be southern Indiana’s only collegiate football program.”
Sprint football differs from American football only in one area; players are required to weigh 178 pounds or less. Otherwise, it is the same as college football regarding the rules and format of the game.
The first head coach in OCU Sprint Football history is Todd Miller, a native of Alabama, who arrived on campus last school year to begin recruiting for the 2023 season. Coach Miller is no stranger to the football sidelines, having coached at the University of Pikeville, Waldorf University, Kentucky Christian University, and others. He was the defensive coordinator at Asbury High School in Alabama before accepting the position with the Mighty Oaks team.
“My family moved here just over a year ago,” Miller said. “It has been one of the best moves we have made throughout the years. My oldest son just started the school year at Wood Memorial Intermediate and loves his new teacher. We have become very good friends with several families in the community through youth baseball. Overall, southern Indiana has become our home very quickly and we’re thankful that God led us here on this journey.”
Home games will be played at the Wood Memorial High School field, while the football coaches’ offices are a block away from the field in the foundation building. With four home games on the schedule and three road games, fans will have good opportunities to enjoy college football live and in person without having to travel far.
Regarding the season schedule highlights, coach Miller said, “Obviously, every game we play is the most important of the week. It is tough to single out any one team just because our conference is so new. The biggest game to me is our first game against Bellarmine University. We must focus on being 1-0 after September 16 and then we can look toward week two.”
The season opens on Saturday, September 16, with a home game against the Knights, who finished 3-2 on the season a year ago. That game is followed by a Saturday, September 23, home matchup against Quincy University, who finished 2-3 last year. The first road game of the year will take place on Saturday, September 30, at fellow newcomer Walsh University, followed by another home contest on Saturday, October 7, against Calumet College of St. Joseph. CCSJ finished 5-0 in the regular season last year, falling to St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in the MSFL championship for their only loss of the season.
The MSFL bye week leads into the OCU matchup at Midway University, who finished the 2022 season 0-5, on Saturday, October 21. The final home game of the year will take place on Saturday, October 28, as the Oaks host the defending MSFL champion SMWC Pomeroys, who held a 4-1 record in last year’s regular season. Saturday, November 4, will be the final game of the regular season, as Oakland City will travel to Fontbonne University, who finished 1-4 last year.
“I remember walking into an empty office last year,” continued Miller, “thinking, ‘where do we even begin building this thing?’ To see it all play out in real time, and to see what we have built so far come together like it has, is one of the most exciting things for me. When you talk about 55 student athletes from 55 difference backgrounds coming together to achieve one common goal, which is to win the Midwest Sprint Football League, it’s really exciting!”
For the first season, the roster has been built with two goals in mind; starting out strong while still looking towards the future. “My recruiting philosophy has changed a little bit from when I first started,” said Miller. “I really wanted a nucleus of players to be from southern Indiana and unfortunately it just didn’t work out that way this year. I hope moving forward we land more local players because there is so much talent right here in our back yard.
“I am a defensive minded coach, but I wanted to build the offense first. We started by going after offensive linemen because I knew that was going to be the toughest aspect of building a sprint football program. Once we built the offense, we really started focusing on bringing in very good athletes on the defensive side. Overall, I am happy with how our roster is set up.”
The coaching staff took longer to come together than the roster, but according to Coach Miller, it was worth waiting to find the right individuals to help lay the right foundation. “It took us a little bit of time to find the right coaching staff. I knew my biggest hire was going to be my offensive coordinator because I am so defensive minded. Fortunately, we found Scott Seeley. Coach Seeley and I first met over Zoom and talked on the phone for a couple of weeks, but we clicked right away. He brings a wealth of knowledge and is a highly intelligent football coach.
“On the offensive side of the ball we also added Brady Egdorf, Trevor Lane, and Ezra Mills to the staff. Some young, energetic and knowledgeable football coaches and even better all-around people. On the defensive side, we added Jacob McCurry from Alabama and Bobby Ellis from Evansville.
“We are fortunate to have these coaches pour into and invest in our young men!”
Each of the four home game dates will be filled GameDay Experience events, including tailgating from 10:45 am until right before kickoff. Inflatables, games, an exclusive alumni lounge, a rock-climbing wall, food trucks, booths from local businesses and organizations, and other activities.
To learn more about how you can be involved in the GameDay Experience, visit https://www.oak.edu/game-day-experience/ and see what all is planned for each day.