NORMAN — Before each football game at Oklahoma Baptist University, the players walk 50 yards from a locker room to the field. Each of the Bison enter the stadium their own special way in front of the sell-out crowd in Shawnee.
The last one on the field is head coach Chris Jensen. He doesn’t make a special production as he takes the field. He prefers that the spotlight be on his players. But they know their subdued coach is the reason they are there.
“The No. 1 reason I came here was coach Jensen,” defensive end Kimes Gilbert said. “I played for him in high school. Then to have the opportunity to play for him in college … It’s the kind of man he is, it’s the kind of coach he is. I love to be under him and learning from him.”
Jensen accepted the OBU job in Jan. 2012. At that moment he became the program’s first head coach since 1940. At the time, he had no players, no coaching staff and no equipment.
The only things Jensen had was experience in building a football program from the ground up and the determination to see the job gets done.
“For him to be able to hold steadfast is wonderful,” OBU Assistant Coach Jason Melot said. “He’s steadfast and stays the course. Keeps us all in the right direction. It’s just awesome.”
Melot was one of the coaches Jensen brought with him from Southmoore High School, where they went through their first building process. A year after his first season with the SaberCats, he had them playing in the class 6A semifinals where they lost to Jenks.
The transformation at OBU may not come as quick on the field. But he has already created an atmosphere that is attracting attention around Shawnee and the state.
“We have provided more opportunities for Oklahoma kids to continue their football careers, and receive an outstanding education in the process,” Jensen said. “OBU alumni have graduated from this university for 73 years, wishing they had a football team and this has brought a lot of them back to our campus. I think the Shawnee community, is like most communities in Oklahoma, and they just love football. It’s evident that they wanted a local college program that they could rally behind. We are blessed with administrators who want to do things in a first class manner and they have worked extremely hard to create a phenomenal atmosphere for game day on our campus.”
One of the focal points Jensen has focused on is bringing in-state kids to the program. Several played for him at Southmoore, such as Gilbert, Nyko Symonds and Derek Serowski.
But Jensen also made sure to recruit players from cities and towns from across the state like Norman, Edmond, Lawton, Midwest City, Newcastle and Tulsa.
“I believe we are building or strengthening fan bases in those various communities,” Jensen said. “When they know we have players here, who played in their programs, they instantly become OBU fans.”
Despite that, wins have been hard to come by in the Bison’s first year. Playing in the NAIA’s Sooner Athletic Conference, the team amassed a 2-6 record in its first eight games. The program’s first win since 1960 came against Southwestern University on Oct. 12. The next week they won their first home game when they beat Wayland Baptist.
“This is something we wanted to do since the beginning,” Gilbert said. “Winning at home is real big. The first win was special because it was the first one since 1940. To come back at home and get it in front of the home crowd means a lot.”
Follow me @eyeamtruth