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May 6, 2014

Aiming to build a tradition

Oakland University football set to return for second season

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Pictured at a recent press conference is first-year Oakland University club football coach Chris Pickney. Oakland Club Advisor Nic Bongers said that the depth and talent on the Grizzlies’ roster is “eye-opening.”

After it was announced that Oakland University would be sporting a club football team for the first time in school history for the 2013 season, according to Club Advisor Nic Bongers, the primary reaction from students and alumni can best be summed up in one word: “finally.”

Oakland’s inaugural season is now behind it, and given that it was the program’s first year of existence, it may be hard to refer to it as anything other than a success.

On the field, the Grizzlies came away with a 5-2 record. But what may be even more important than that is the reaction the team received.

“It was overwhelming,” Bongers said. “We’re very visible on campus. As a team, we experienced quite a bit of exposure. We had NFL Films do a piece on one of our players (Chris Harris) on to getherwemakefootball.com, and there were OU alumni from Texas saying, ‘Hey, I just saw a commercial with Oakland University football on Sunday Night Football.’ It was a big thing. That got us kind of on the map with people, just by seeing us in NFL Films commercials, and the fact that we went 5-2. It impressed a lot of people.”

Having players carry themselves in a positive manner could also go a long way toward continuing to garner support for the football team.

“A lot of guys on the team — they’re classy guys,” Bongers said. “It’s gone so far as to be PG rated on social media. There might be a 12-year-old kid that follows us on twitter, and if we’re saying Rated R things on twitter, that’s a poor reflection on the club, so we’re really looking at maintaining a clean reputation and being respectful students and football players.”

While last year may have largely consisted of getting organized and trying to draw attention to the program, Bongers said Oakland’s upcoming season is going to be about building a tradition.

“Smoother operations,” more community service, and less “growing pains” are what Bongers indicated could be the biggest differences between last year and Oakland’s program moving forward.  But perhaps the biggest change is the addition of Chris Pickney as the club’s new head coach.

Pickney said his previous experience has included coaching at the high school and semi-pro level, along with helping out a couple of arena football league teams.

“My expectations as of now is to help community awareness of the program and get the community support that we need,” he said. “Last year, they had a pretty good season. They finished 5-2, and that’s great for a start-up team. To continue going in a positive manner is what we’re trying to do as a coaching staff and team. I have a military background, so accountability’s big with me. It’s a focus of myself and the coaching staff.”

Pickney is not ruling out the possibility that football could become a major sport at Oakland. That is a process that can be enhanced greatly by continuing to put together winning football seasons.

“To build a great tradition and keep things going in a positive manner,” Pickney said of his goals for the program. “We got a great group of young men. We’re looking to win. I think we got a group of guys that can create some wins for us — continue to build that tradition.”

Aside from the response from students and alumni, Oakland’s roster size may also be a good indication of the kind of interest the program has drawn. Bongers said last year’s roster consisted of approximately 35 players, while this year’s squad could have between 40-50, and possibly even as many as 60, which is the league maximum.

While his role as club advisor and trying to figure out ways to raise enough money to support the club may sometimes leave him preoccupied, Bongers hasn’t been so distracted by his responsibilities that he hasn’t observed the opportunities that could await Oakland’s football program moving forward.

“After seeing some of the talent of some of the players on this team, particularly with our offensive and defensive line, I think we can make a run this year,” said Bongers, who also plays wide receiver for the team. “Another thing that kind of separates the team this year from last year’s team is I think we have more depth. Some of the things we see in practice — it’s really eye-opening to see the depth that we can have this fall, and the talent that we have as a whole. This second year, after what happened last year, our expectations are set higher.”

Anybody interested in learning more about Oakland’s football team can send an email to oufootballclub@gmail.com.