Four years ago, coach Brett Timmons walked off The Out-of-Door Academy football team’s practice field at a loss for words.
The Thunder’s first football practice — if you could call it that — was like nothing the young coach had ever seen. At the time, only a handful of players had any prior football experience. So rather than focusing on game plans and future opponents, Timmons and the rest of the ODA coaching staff spent those first few weeks of practice just trying to get their players to understand the basic fundamentals.
“It was an interesting deal,” Timmons says. “Not a lot of guys new the ins and outs of the game. The majority of what they knew they learned off Playstation or what they had seen on TV.”
It was enough to cause any coach, particularly a first-year head coach, to question his situation — and perhaps even his sanity. But Timmons didn’t see his players’ lack of experience as a hindrance. Instead, it was a chance to build a program from the ground up and start a tradition unlike any the school had experienced.
Timmons began by taking a group of players to a University of South Florida football game. For most of them, it was the first time they had attended a college football game. More than providing his players with a memorable experience, Timmons hoped to show them the intensity, skill level and work ethic it takes to be competitive.
“I think in reality showing them that game (taught) them what it meant to play at a high level,” Timmons says. “The (hope) was that it would help transform the program, which I think it did.”
A native of Bradenton, Timmons played linebacker for Southeast High School from 1991-1995. During his time at Southeast, Timmons won back-to-back state championships in 1993 and 1994.
“Those last two years going 29-1 … those were some of the better memories of my young life so far,” Timmons says. “I think if you look at our program and do a thorough analysis, you’ll see orange and blue handprints all over the place from our pregame meal to our fight song to the way we condition and coach. I want them to have the same high school experience I had growing up.”
Timmons went on to play football at Tulane University in New Orleans. Timmons was a part of the Green Wave’s perfect 12-0 season during which they finished the season ranked No. 7.
Timmons graduated from Tulane in 1999 with a degree in communications and went on to complete a graduate assistantship at the University of Cincinnati, a graduate internship at Clemson University and an internship with the Indianapolis Colts before assuming his current position in 2006. Most recently, Timmons completed an internship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Throughout his time as a player, an assistant and an intern, Timmons learned from some of the best in the business. He’s drawn inspiration from Paul Maechtle, Faust DeLazzer, Mike Tomlin and Tony Dungy, among others.
“I took bits and pieces of each individual, and they’ve shaped who I am today,” Timmons says. “To me a coach is a teacher, and an effective teacher is one that knows what schemes and philosophies to instill in his players.
“It’s not so much about yelling and screaming, but about bringing the best out in each individual kid,” he says. “Every kid can add value, and it’s up to the coach to find that value and bring it out. Good coaches can do that.”
Timmons hadn’t always planned to become a teacher and a head coach — in fact he avoided the notion early on. Timmons’ mother, Carol, was a teacher, but Timmons had plans of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. But that changed during his freshman year of college. Timmons decided to change his major, and when the opportunity at ODA arose, Timmons, who teaches history at ODA, couldn’t help but accept.
“I figured I like the sport of football, and I have a gift of being able to talk and teach, so why not combine those gifts?” Timmons says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
In their first season of varsity football, the Thunder finished 6-3. ODA fell to 4-5 the following year before bouncing back last year, finishing 7-4 and capturing the program’s first playoff berth.
But it wasn’t until this season when the groundwork Timmons laid four years ago finally came to fruition. After a disappointing 30-8 loss to Cardinal Mooney in the second week, Timmons challenged his players to pick up their intensity and play like champions.
The Thunder responded.
ODA racked up seven straight wins on its way to an 8-1 regular season record and a perfect district record, capturing the program’s first district title and its second-consecutive playoff berth.
The Thunder carried their winning ways into the postseason, defeating Admiral Farragut and Evangelical Christian in the regional semifinals and finals and earning their first state semifinal berth.
And although ODA’s playoff run ended before it could play for a state championship, for Timmons, it was a sign of what the future holds for this young team.
“It was a good experience to be the architect of this dream,” Timmons says. “We started laying down the seeds, and they came to fruition (this year).
“I knew when we started that we had a solid freshmen class and I thought eventually someday we would get here,” he says. “It was a goal, but did I believe we would make it as far as we went? No. I just knew we would be more competitive in our fourth year.”
Next fall, the Thunder will once again look to make a run at a state championship — only this time ODA will have a brand new stadium to call home.
“I think it makes it tangible for them,” Timmons says. “I think it’ll give them that high school spirit of smelling the popcorn popping, seeing the lights, hearing the pep band and playing until that final whistle blows.
“It’ll be another season of firsts for us, and it’s something to motivate us throughout the winter and summer,” he says.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].