LAKEWOOD RANCH — Every time The Out-of-Door Academy football coach Brett Timmons looks onto the field, he is reminded of 2006.
It was the Thunder’s first year of varsity football, and the team was comprised primarily of freshmen.
Without the experience or guidance of senior leadership, ODA initially struggled to find its footing.
But, over time, the players became ingrained in Timmons’ system, and, before long, ODA was on the doorstep of greatness. Three years after their inaugural season, those same players led the Thunder to an unprecedented season, capturing the school’s first district title and advancing to the state semifinals.
Now five years later, ODA finds itself in a similar position. After suffering a losing season last year, the Thunder returned to the field this spring with aspirations of returning ODA to promise.
“It put a horrible taste in our mouths,” freshman middle linebacker McCabe Ballance says. “We’re looking to come back stronger this year. We had our first losing season, and we’re embarrassed about that. We want to make our coaches and the school proud and change the culture.”
Timmons knows that with only one junior and no seniors on its 25-man roster next fall, it’s going to take time for the Thunder to learn and develop.
ODA boasts youth across the board, including at the skill positions in rising freshman quarterback Gus Mahler, rising freshman running back Dakota Dickerson and rising sophomore running backs Josh Lerner and Jason Fineberg.
“The hardest part is being patient because you see the potential there,” Timmons says. “As coaches, we have a tendency to hit the go button a lot sooner than they are ready for. We just have to learn to be patient and watch it develop.”
ODA saw its first taste of competitive action in six months during its spring game May 16. The Thunder fell 31-14 to Northside Christian — the same team they faced in last year’s spring game.
The sense of familiarity could prove to be beneficial for the players this season — the majority of whom will play their second year of varsity football.
“We’re very youthful, but we’re willing to put in the work,” Ballance says. “A lot of freshmen would be playing on freshmen or JV teams, but we were playing against varsity teams like Booker where I know I was outsized by about 50 pounds.
“The experience gave the guys confidence,” Ballance says. “We know what it takes to play at the varsity level. Now we’re just looking to improve every year and go as far as we can. We’re not looking to have another losing season like we had last year because we’re better than that team.”
ODA spent its spring practices focusing on basic schemes in the hope of building upon them during the offseason workouts in the summer and fall camp, which begins Aug. 4.
ODA will kick off the 2014 season with its preseason kickoff classic Aug. 22 against First Baptist Academy before traveling to Bradenton Christian for the season opener Aug. 29.
“I tell them all the time this is a marathon and not a sprint,” Timmons says. “It’s all about the process, and this is phase one. Now, it’s just a matter of how fast can we mentally mature. They had their first taste of varsity football last year and will have a full offseason, so we’ll see what happens in the fall.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
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