Austin Peay is hoping the long, long wait between conference championships doesn’t last as long this time.
Austin Peay took the Ohio Valley Conference by storm in 2019 by winning the league title for the first time in 40 years and advancing to the quarterfinal round of the national playoffs.
Turmoil only followed when coach Mark Hudspeth resigned after reportedly being suspended by the school.
Marquase Lovings was appointed interim coach and went winless in each of the three games played during the fall 2020 season before Scotty Walden was hired to right the ship in Clarksville. He was the third coach in a span of seven months.
It proved to be a smart hire.
The Govs won four of six games under Walden during the spring season, including a 13-10 win over No. 7 Jacksonville State on the road and a 34-31 triumph over Murray State one week later to close the season.
Walden figured his player deserved a break after the revolving door of coaches and the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic. He gave his team eight weeks off after the win over the Racers.
“I think they all just needed to get away from football,” the AP mentor said.
Refreshed, now the focus returns to the task at hand as the Govs look to challenge for the top spot in the league.
Having two highly respected standouts leads to plenty of optimism as the season prepares to get underway.
Quarterback Draylen Ellis (6-1, 178, So.), the OVC freshman of the year this past season, was tabbed as the preseason offensive player of the year.
“He is a player who wants to be coached,” Walden said of his standout signal caller.
Austin Peay also had three offensive linemen named to the preseason squad. Seth Johnson (6-5, 308), Colby McKee (6-5, 247) and Bucky Williams (6-3, 290) were all expected to be among the best in the league in the trenches.
The trenches is where Walden believes may determine who eventually emerges as conference champion.
“The OVC is a very physical league in the trenches,” he said.
A pair of Govs were chosen on the defensive side of the on the preseason honors list, including nickel back Kordell Jackson (5-9, 188), a redshirt senior, who was chosen as the top defensive player heading into the start of the fall season. Linebacker Jack Johnson (6-0, 206, Sr.) joined Jackson on the squad.
Key Game: at Murray State on Oct. 23.
Worst Case: Austin Peay can ill afford to look ahead to that Oct. 23 date with Murray State. Any hopes of winning the OVC this season depends on a quick start to conference play. Both Tennessee State and Southeast Missouri are no slouch and if the Govs stumble in either, or both, of those games the road to the league title is going to becoming a treacherous one with little room for additional missteps.
Best Case: Having the conference preseason player of the year on both sides of the ball gives APSU something brag about as the 2021 season gets underway and college football helps a nation return to normal.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.