LAKEWOOD RANCH — There was a time when Todd Humphrey felt like the smallest player on the field.
The then Out-of-Door Academy freshman was constantly getting knocked around and lacked the speed and agility to make an immediate impact on the Thunder’s kickoff team.
But one solid tackle midway through the season completely changed Humphrey’s outlook, both on his own individual ability and the game as a whole. It was his first solo tackle on kickoff coverage, and it solidified in Humphrey a belief that he could in fact make an impact and contribute to the team after all.
“It taught me to be less selfish,” Humphrey said. “As (a member of) a football team, you can never put your wants before the team’s wants.”
Those early lumps paved the way for Humphrey and ultimately helped him face even the most inopportune situations — the vast majority of which came last season.
After a plethora of injuries and several lopsided losses derailed ODA’s season, Humphrey and his teammates learned what it takes to stand tall when your backs are against the wall.
“You can never give up on yourself no matter how low things get because the lows only stay so low for so long,” Humphrey said.
Now, as one of eight upperclassmen on ODA’s 24-person roster, the junior offensive and defensive lineman is hoping the challenges of last season serve as motivation for himself and his teammates.
“We want to exceed the outside expectation of us,” Humphrey said. “We’re not expected to do well, so hopefully we can exceed that expectation.”
Humphrey and the rest of the Thunder will get their first true dose of game action Friday night when they take the field for their season opener at Bradenton Christian. ODA was forced to make an early exit last week when lightning, with six minutes remaining in the first quarter, forced the cancellation of its Kickoff Classic versus First Baptist.
ODA will play a nine-game schedule this season, and with only two district games on the schedule, the Thunder only needs to win one of those games to put itself in a position to earn a playoff berth — a feat Humphrey believes is fully within reach if ODA continues to play together as a team.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” Humphrey said. “Obviously we want to win, and if we don’t focus on doing too much, we’ll get there. I feel an expectation to be the leader of the group, and I definitely embrace that role. Now is as good a time as ever.”
BY THE NUMBERS
24 - The number of players on this year’s roster.
2010 - The last year the Thunder advanced to the playoffs.
417 - The number of points ODA allowed last season.
8 - The number of games in which ODA’s opponents scored five or more touchdowns.
16 - The number of underclassmen on this year’s squad.
ODA 2014 Football Roster
2 Tyler Wenger JR K
3 Najee Rhodes SO RB/LB
4 Tommy Onufrak FR WR/DB
5 Steele Carlson FR WR/DB
6 Jason Fineberg SO RB/DB
8 Cody Cheney SO WR/DB
9 Gus Mahler FR QB
11 Matt Luhrsen FR WR/DB
18 Joey Runge SO WR/DB/P
20 Chasz Johnson JR WR/DB
21 Austin Hoppe SR WR
24 Sam Hajduk JR P/K
33 Owen Han JR RB/LB
44 McCabe Ballance SO LB/TE
50 Clarence Dodge SO OL/DL
51 Chris Robinson SO OL/DL
52 Kevin Bernet SO OL/DL
53 Chris Poole JR OL/DL
54 Brad Hansell SO OL/DL
55 Zach Poole SO OL/DL
56 Christian McCarthy SO OL/DL
65 Joey Coco JR DL
70 Lucas Macleod FR OL/DL
72 Todd Humphrey JR OL/DL
Brett Timmons, Ninth Year
What are your initial thoughts on this year’s team?
We’re in phase two of the youth movement. We had to go through some growing pains last year, but (hopefully) this season we’ll start to see the fruits of our labor. The guys have worked extremely hard, so they don’t put themselves in the same situation they were in last year.
What would you say is the strength of this year’s team?
For us, it’s more about the intangible tangibles. It’s the energy, unity and camaraderie. This team generally cares and loves each other. We can see it and sense it every day. We’ve got a unique group of kids.
What’s the one area that needs improvement?
Our depth in numbers. We’ve been telling the kids, “There are no breaks. You can’t get tired because there’s no one to save you. You’re the best this school has to offer in this said sport. You have to handle yourselves with honor, class, pride and play to the best of your ability to win the war of attrition.” It’s a battle of the mind.
As a coach, how do you adjust to only having 24 players on your roster?
I don’t think you adjust your core values, but your tactics might be a little different. You have to get the players to understand that the strength of a wolf is the pack. We have to come together to get this done. It’s going to take all (24) players to make it happen. Everyone has to contribute, and their roles could change from week to week. Everyone has to be invested in it.
Aug. 29 at Bradenton Christian (7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 5 at Citrus Park Christian
Sept. 12 St John Lutheran School
Sept. 19 vs. Shorecrest Prep
Sept. 26 BYE
Oct. 3 at Bishop Verot* (7:30 p.m.)
Oct. 10 vs. Gateway Charter
Oct. 17 vs. Cardinal Mooney*
Oct. 24 vs. St. Stephen’s
Oct. 31 at Victory Christian Academy
Nov. 7 BYE
*Denotes district game
**All games start at 7 p.m.
unless otherwise noted
PLAYERS TO WATCH
18 - Joey Runge, sophomore, wide receiver and defensive back
6 - Jason Fineberg, sophomore, running back, wide receiver and defensive back
3 - Najee Rhodes, sophomore, running back and linebacker
44 - McCabe Ballance, sophomore, linebacker and tight end
56 - Christian McCarthy, sophomore, offensive and defensive line
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