The Out-of-Door Academy's 2022 football season represented a cultural and philosophical shift, one that bloomed to show on-the-field results.
Under first-year Head Coach Rob Hollway, ODA ran through its regular season with an 8-0 record, including a 26-22 road win over rival St. Stephen's Episcopal, the program's first win over the Falcons since 2012.
The season laid the foundation for what Hollway said he hopes becomes the expectation for the program — a lot of success and a lot of fun.
Hollway again praised a group of players who came to the football program from ODA's baseball team, adding an immediate jolt of athleticism. Those players were used by the Thunder at the skill positions to produce big plays. Many of those players, like team captains Jack Hobson and Luca Marino, were seniors, opting to play a single season on the football team in an attempt to get the program out of the doldrums.
Hobson, the team's quarterback, said it was worth the effort.
"Putting in all the hard work over the summer and during camp and then putting it together during the season, rolling with the boys, that was amazing," Hobson said. "It was all I could have asked for when this started. We didn't go out there just to play football. It was to change the culture of the program and of the school, really. We wanted to bring the winning attitude of the baseball program. I think we put ODA on the map this year. We stuck to the coaches' plan and brought ODA something it's never had in football."
Hobson said the team rallied together under that goal and never lost sight of it. It was a mentality echoed by the team's coaches. Hobson said prior to the team's Senior Night game Oct. 14 against Cocoa Beach High, Hollway and his staff put together slideshows highlighting the best plays each senior made during the season and showed them to the team. Hollway also gave a speech about each player, applauding them for their contributions to his first season with the Thunder.
While Hobson was upset about the way the team played in its loss to St. Stephen's, he said the loss is hardly the end of ODA's turnaround.
"We set the bar high," Hobson said. "But I think Coach Hollway will keep this thing going. He was a blessing for our team. He knows how to coach. I mean, I had played one game at quarterback before this year, and he helped me quarterback the team to a 9-1 season. He has this program going places."
In addition to Hobson and Marino, the team will lose 10 other seniors to graduation, including the team's leading rusher Griffin DeRusso, key players in the defensive secondary like Drew Hill and Jason Albano, and defensive end Tyler Beck, who recorded 11.5 sacks.
Returning to the field, however, will be ODA's entire offensive line — sophomore Chase Polivchak, freshman Max Polivchak, sophomore Marvin Palominos, junior Blake Neumann and junior Blaine Bentley — as well as Charlie Tack, a junior linebacker who led the team with 51 tackles, and freshman running back Allen Clark, who shined when given opportunities behind DeRusso, running for 383 yards and six touchdowns.
Tack, who has been with the program since his freshman season, said this year was by far the most rewarding year of football he has played.
"The spirit was always high, whether we were down or up," Tack said. "It made it fun."
Hollway said he believes a mix of these returning players and some players graduating from ODA's middle school program will create a roster that can continue the success.
"We'll have to develop some more," Hollway said. "But we have a bunch of pieces."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.