The OPSU Aggie football team is adjusting to a new coach in Goodwell – for the second consecutive year. Russell Gaskamp took over in May as the head coach of the Aggies.
And with only three months to get things in order before the athletes arrive to get to work in August, Gaskamp and his new staff are addressing things systematically.
“Basically there are three things we’ve had to do,” Gaskamp said. “The first thing is to make sure that the kids who are already on campus feel good about the transition, and are getting their plans ready for the summer.
“The second phase was to get in contact with all of the kids that have been signed by the previous staff. I want to let them know my expectations and also to see where they all are in the process of getting into school and everything that they have to do be an NCAA football player.”
“We wanted to make sure those kids feel good about everything. We visited with the kids and visited with the parents. We let them know what was going to be going on in the future.”
Gaskamp takes the reins from Jon Lyles, who was at OPSU only one season. The Aggies went 3-7 in 2011.
And Gaskamp felt it important to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“They signed a large group of guys last year,” Gaskamp said. “But I personally visited with every single one of them.
“I also wanted to find out what their goals are. Obviously, they were recruited into a slightly different system than what I’m going to run, so I wanted to make sure they felt comfortable with that.
“And lost probably only about five percent of the guys. And even then, it was really more about the cost of school or a family issue. It wasn’t really because of us.”
But the transitional work continues into the summer for Gaskamp and his staff.
“Of course right now, we’re in the third phase as we’ve seen a few holes that we need to fill through transfer and junior college recruiting,” Gaskamp said. “The staff is taking a look at some potential guys and we’re being very aggressive in our recruiting.”
But the summer activities in the panhandle are not just about bringing in new blood. Gaskamp has many players already in the fold that are preparing for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got a good core group of guys that are going through workouts,” Gaskamp said. “And we hope that number will increase as the summer goes on.
“In early July, we can start throwing out some seven-on-seven and get to learn the offensive and defensive systems a little more.”
Gaskamp is excited about this opportunity as the head coach at Division II Oklahoma Panhandle State, but the D-II experience is nothing new to him. He has been on staff at Southwestern Oklahoma, Texas A&M-Commerce and most recently at Angelo State. And he said that every stop has a different feel.
“Each campus is unique in what it takes to make it a consistent winner year-in and year-out and then in the type of kid that you are looking for to come to that campus,” Gaskamp said. “It’s important to do a real evaluation of the program and find the things that are going to make it successful.”
Attracting players to Goodwell, Okla., provides the coaching staff its own unique opportunities. But Gaskamp has a good idea of what he wants.
“Being around a number of different schools has helped me to be able put things in place here that will help us be successful,” Gaskamp said.
And he’s excited about Division II football in Goodwell and the players that he’s seeking out to be a part of this program.
“We’re looking for a specific type of kid that’s going to come out here and do well,” Gaskamp said. “What we want to do is to build our team within a two-hour radius of here. We want to start with being the base of the team, with kids that have a tie to the region. And you don’t have to go really far to find a whole lot of good football players.”
And there is a long-term plan in place for Aggie football.
“We’re going to be specific in the recruiting here, maybe even more so than what’s been done in the past,” Gaskamp said. “We’ll be looking closely at the panhandle of Texas, the southwest corner of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado, and of course, the panhandle of Oklahoma all the way to Oklahoma City.
“This is a blue-collar campus. If they’re looking for the bright lights and big city, this is not going to be their fit. So we are going to find kids that will fit in with the kids that have been successful here.
“We’re looking forward to putting everything into place.”
Photos: Courtesy OPSU Sports Information Department.