ODA coach wants team to hit the weight room in the offseason.
After The Out-of-Door Academy football team’s 35-19 home loss to Gateway Charter Oct. 25 in the first round of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference playoffs, Thunder coach Chris Kempton knew what led to the loss.
It was turnovers, special teams mistakes and a penchant for allowing big plays.
So when it comes to the future, Kempton did not hesitate when asked what needs to change in 2020.
“We need to get stronger and we need to get faster,” Kempton said. “We need to get in the weight room and dedicate ourselves to it. And we need more kids. We have some great athletes at this school who aren’t playing football and we need to get them out here. At one point, we were practicing with 18 kids (because of injuries). We need depth.”
Against most teams, ODA — which uses many players on both sides of the ball out of necessity — has been able to overcome a size disadvantage with smart play, by not taking penalties and by not hurting themselves. But against elite programs, the Thunder has struggled. The team has an 18-9 record, including the playoffs, over the last three seasons, but four of those nine losses have come against Saint Stephen’s Episocpal, and those games have a combined score of 182-17.
The game against Gateway Charter was not to that level as ODA struggled to block the Griffins’ defensive linemen, and the pressure forced sophomore quarterback Tyler Beasley into scrambles and rushed throws. Gateway Charter junior wideout Ja'daniel Leaphart gave the secondary trouble because of his speed. He also took a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Kempton said the more players ODA gets, the more chance it will have to find the speed necessary to deal with those elite programs. It would also give the Thunder offensive threats who could effectively stretch the field and force the opposing defense to cover more area.
Kempton said he has not decided whether his team needs to change its strategy in the weight room or simply needs to spend more time in it.
After the loss, future goals needed to wait. His mind was with the team’s senior players, who he called special.
“They are the culture,” Kempton said. “My first year as head coach, all these guys were starting to play in the second half of that season. After that, they set the tone.”
Jarred Flahive, a senior running back/safety, wiped tears from his face after thanking each of his coaches and teammates for their efforts.
“This is a brotherhood,” Flahive said. “I know a lot of people say that, but it is true here. These guys will always be my brothers. In 10 years, this bond will still be intact. We may not be the biggest team, but we have the biggest hearts. I believe that. I’m going to remember the people more than the games.”
ODA graduates just eight seniors, but they include Flahive and fellow captains J.J. Easto and Sebastian Frias-Imbert, both offensive/defensive linemen, and running back/safety Colin Castro, who carried the offense at times this season. He had all three Thunder touchdowns in the loss to Gateway Charter.