PRYOR, OK —
In two weeks, Pryor graduate Christian Doty will join 110 other young men in doing something that no one has done for 73 years: play football for Oklahoma Baptist University.
Doty, a 6-foot, 265-pound nose tackle, has been out of football since he graduated in 2010 — small beans compared to the seven decades the small NAIA school in Shawnee has gone without.
Doty was a big bat on Pryor's baseball team and was an all-district talent at middle linebacker, but didn't have eyes on a college football career.
"I was leaning towards baseball, but I kind of gave that up and came back and coached at Pryor," said Doty, who also spent time at Rogers State and Northeastern State.
When he returned to Pryor, Doty coached with current Tiger head football coach Jason Freeman. Freeman was an assistant coach at Southmoore High School under head coach Chris Jensen in 2008. Jensen, something of a specialist in starting football programs from scratch, was the first-ever Southmoore football coach in 2008 before leaving to build the OBU program as its head coach in 2011.
Doty said Freeman was a big influence on his decision to pursue a college football career.
"He just told me one day, 'Don't ever live your life regretting not going somewhere.' So I really listened to that, and when I went to go help my fiance [Kelsey Graham, who runs track and cross country at OBU] move in on move-in day I started thinking about it," Doty said.
Recruiting coordinator and OBU linebackers coach Jason Melot was one of the first connections Doty made at the school. Doty later returned to visit the team in its infancy stages.
"Once I went there and met all the coaches I felt really welcomed," Doty said. "It's a different atmosphere. Most places, you go somewhere and you have three or four guys come up to you and say 'Hi.' It wasn't like that at OBU. Every single kid, every single coach just couldn't wait for me to be a part of this."
Doty also spoke highly of Jensen.
"He's awesome. He's got a very loving, Christian family. We have cookouts at his house, we all go to church, we go over and have Bible study. He has really strong character, and he really cares about his kids and his players."
Since landing in Shawnee, Doty made the switch to nose tackle, where he has bulked up to make the transition.
"I'm still getting used to using my hands at that position, but I've got some quickness that comes in handy," said Doty, who currently occupies the second spot on the depth chart. "Right now I'm battling for the starting job. There's a bigger guy who has the No. 1 spot, but he's left some doors open a little bit. I'm just trying to work hard and work my way into some playing time."
Playing time shouldn't be an issue for Doty in the future. While he is academically a junior, Doty still retains all four years of his eligibility, should he choose to take advantage of them.
There are some familiar faces that will be suiting up alongside Doty, like Claremore product Cale Grauer. Grauer, a 6-foot-2 sophomore quarterback, spent time at Missouri Western before transferring to OBU. Like Doty, Grauer is in the middle of a heated position battle.
Doty said it's kind of fun having a rival Zebra on the team, but high school rivalries were long gone once he joined the Bison.
"There's a couple guys from Miami too, they're a big rival for us (in Pryor)," Doty said. "We joke, we laugh. They give me a hard time sometimes, you know. 'Pryor?! For real?' But I give them the same crap. We all get along. A lot of us come from different backgrounds, but in the locker room and even off the field we're all pretty close."
Doty and the rest of the OBU players were part of a foundational team that laid the groundwork for the program in 2012. They got to practice and work out like every other school, but their calendars were sadly empty on Saturdays. The prospect of colliding with some fresh foes has the whole team chomping at the bit.
"We're tired of hitting our own people," Doty said. "The practices last year were pretty high, and the practices this year are pretty high. We could have looked at [last year] as, 'Oh, we don't have to practice very hard because we don't play for another year,' but we didn't approach it that way at all. The coaches made sure we didn't have to wait. They kept things interesting and made sure we got the most out of every day.
"A college sport isn't just something you do a hobby, you live it. You love it. You eat it, you sleep it."
Doty's family moved to Texas after his high school graduation, so Doty calls his apartment in Shawnee his home now.
"Shawnee is different. They have a mall, but it's not that great," he said with a laugh. "I really like all the people in the community though. They are very welcoming, just like in Pryor. And they're all really excited to get college football. There's hype around everywhere."
The last time the Bison fielded a team, there was a Roosevelt in office and "Gone With The Wind" was the reigning Oscar-winner for Best Picture. Students used to wear T-shirts around campus that cleverly proclaimed the football team had been undefeated since 1940, the last year before the school shut the program down.
That undefeated streak is now in jeopardy, but Doty and the rest of the team are more than excited to put on the pads and keep it going.
"We have some high expectations," Doty said. "It's our first year and everything, but when a team gets rolling, they get rolling."
OBU was picked sixth in the Central States Football League in the preseason coaches' poll.
"We have a Division I team on our schedule. We want to play the best because we want to be the best," Doty said. "We want to fill the house every week and show people what we can do. Our defense flies around everywhere, and we've got each other's backs. Our motto is 'Dominate.'"
OBU opens Aug. 31 at home against Southwestern College. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.