Head coach Scotty Walden looks on during the Governors’ first practice of 2021. | APSU ATHLETICS

Despite beginning practices with less than a month before their season-opening game, the APSU football team is determined to have varying forms of success throughout their spring season.

The Ohio Valley Conference held its annual media days for their participating football schools on Jan. 19. The conference will play seven regular season games before crowning a champion in April. The Governors come into 2021 as the reigning conference winners from the fall of 2019.

Scotty Walden takes over the program for the Govs following their 0-3 start last fall. After officially joining the program in November of 2020, Walden’s first order of business was to instill a culture within his players during the transition from interim head coach Marquase Lovings.

“I think [culture] was imperative from the get go to get that done,” Walden said. “That’s something we started right when we got here. We started our mat drill phase and we got after guys early and our kids have responded. I have been thoroughly impressed at the young men in this program, and I’m not just saying that because they’re mine now.

“They want to work. They want to play and — right now, going through just simple walkthroughs and meetings that we can do right now — they are fired up. They bring it every day, and I think that’s a formula for success. I’m really excited to get with this group and get going.”

The Governors were outscored by 97 points in their three games played this fall, something that Walden hopes to improve upon offensively and defensively through a “fearless, fast, physical” brand of gameplay.

“I think everybody’s hungry right now to prove to this new coaching staff, and not only to prove it to the new coaching staff, but to take their game to the next level, so to speak,” he said. “Because we want to build a consistent winner here at Austin Peay that wins year-in and year-out. I think guys are hungry to do that.”

The coach mentioned that every athlete on the field has a clean slate when it comes to their role moving forward. One position of emphasis for APSU this spring will be under center. Starting quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall’s transfer leaves six potential replacements at the position in what Walden called a “healthy room” of competition.

Available quarterbacks on roster to replace Oatsvall include Draylen Ellis, Vito Priore, Collier Pecht, Kam Williams, Bryce Robinson and Memphis transfer Sheldon Layman.

Quarterback Vito Priore is one of six athletes under center vying for a starting role this spring. | APSU ATHLETICS
Vito Priore (12) is one of six quarterbacks vying for a starting role this spring. |

“I would say that nobody has emerged as a front-runner yet, because I’m not going to make that call until I get a quarterback in full pads, and he’s got to feel that pass rush and make plays with three to five guys breathing down his neck,” Walden said. “That’s the true mark of a great quarterback, or a guy that’s going to separate himself.

“I’ve been really impressed up to this point of those guys grasping the offense, because it’s totally new: it’s a totally new pace, it’s a totally new system and a totally new structure. Those guys have embraced it, they’ve come to work everyday and I’ve been really impressed with their work ethic and their competitiveness with each other every day. It’s been a healthy competition.”

Although positions are up for grabs in the spring, a mainstay in the program is defensive back Kordell Jackson. The senior totaled 11 tackles and a pass breakup during fall competition. Now under his fourth coach in four seasons, Jackson holds lofty expectations for the program as they traverse through what could be his final season in Clarksville.

“Definitely nothing less than a national championship,” he said. “I feel like each year that’s the biggest goal. That’s the overall goal, is to win a national championship and a conference championship, at the end of the day.”

Led by Walden, Jackson and eight new assistant coaches, the Governors aim to repeat as Ohio Valley Conference Champions when beginning their season Feb. 21 at Tennessee Tech.