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East County Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021 3 months ago

East County high school football preview: The Out-of-Door Academy

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New ODA football coach expects his team to have some growing pains.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Five months into the job, The Out-of-Door Academy football Coach Jon Haskins is enjoying the challenge.

Navigating both the COVID-19 pandemic and a smaller roster than he had at Reno High have presented hurdles. Haskins said playing his athletes on both sides of the ball will be new for him, as will potentially using eighth graders if they're the best option at a position. Haskins said he's still hesitant to do that, but will consider it.

Haskins said he's happy to be starting with a big group of offensive linemen who are underclassmen, something that will provide a base for the future. Haskins expects his team to have a size advantage over most SSAC schools. Freshman Marvin Palamonis is 6-foot-1, 266 pounds, freshman Chase Polivchak is 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and eighth grader Max Polivchak, is 6-foot-0, 270 pounds. 

"I would have never guessed that we would have one of the biggest lines in all three counties (Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte)," Haskins said. "The future is bright in that regard."

At the team's Aug. 18 practice, Haskins focused on conditioning, never letting his players idle for too long and ending the day with sprints and one-on-one blocking drills. The Thunder players were tired, but they understood that the hard work is necessary if they want to be competitive. 

"We are a small school, so we have to be able to play both ways," sophomore linebacker and running back Charlie Tack said. "You have to play the whole game. Our conditioning has to be good enough to do that."

Tack is one of the players Haskins will count on the most in his first season. Tack was named an honorable mention on the All-SSAC Class A team as a freshman linebacker. He will be asked to lead on the defensive side alongside veterans like senior defensive end Austin Goins. 

Returning to the offense are senior wide receiver Connor Pope and senior running back Grady Paxton. That duo will be expected to carry the offensive load. Pope caught 29 passes for 491 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior while Paxton had 94 carries for 525 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers came while the duo split touches with the now-graduated Nolan Lewellen (43 catches and 26 carries, 1,015 total yards). With him gone, Pope and Paxton's production should only increase. 

Haskins said he also expects a big season from senior wide receiver/running back Ashton Lamb, who had 14 total touches for 149 yards last season. Expect those numbers to increase in 2021. 

A starting quarterback hasn't been named. The only two players listed as quarterbacks on ODA's roster are freshmen Josey Rubinstein and Greg Robinson. It will be an area of inexperience. 

Haskins is realistic about expectations for the first year of his tutelage. 

"I'm excited," Haskins said. "We won't be perfect. We want to go undefeated, of course, but that probably won't happen. We want to consistently improve. We want that to be our hallmark, just like the (state champion) baseball program has done and just like (boys basketball Coach) B.J. Ivey is doing. We're trying to be the best version of ourselves and I think that can be a good football team." 

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I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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