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Lakewood Ranch's ODA uses rushing attack to start football season 2-0

Running back Griffin DeRusso leads a punishing Thunder ground game.

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Under first-year Head Coach Rob Hollway, The Out-of-Door Academy football team has hit the ground running — literally. 

In the first week of the 2022 season, ODA ran for four touchdowns in a 28-0 road win over Berean Christian. In its second game, the Thunder rushed for seven touchdowns in a 51-29 stomping of Oasis High in Hollway's home debut. 

So far the Thunder has had no reason to throw. 

ODA used myriad backs to give defenses different looks, with senior Griffin DeRusso, who transferred to the school from Berean Christian (California), leading the way. DeRusso has shown his multi-sport athleticism whenever he touches the ball. He has run for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns in two games. 

"It's been a lot of fun," DeRusso said. "It's great to be out here. Everyone is rallying around one another. We have a good vibe. We just need to keep that going the rest of the season." 

DeRusso complimented the offensive line — which includes junior Blaine Bentley, Junior Blake Neumann, sophomore Chase Polivchak, sophomore Marvin Palominos and freshman Max Polivchak.

But after he gets through the initial line of defense, DeRusso does the rest. Against Oasis, DeRusso used powerful stiff arms and pure speed to get the yards he needed and he said his vision is a big reason he has done so well.

"He's a winner and he wants the ball," Hollway said of DeRusso. "From the moment he arrived, I knew he was a rock star and was ready to carry the ball 20 times a game. We're going to keep feeding him."

DeRusso was hardly alone in his success against Oasis. Senior Luca Marino finished with two touchdowns and freshman Allen Clark and junior Jack Meyers added one apiece.

ODA's defense had a big game as well, picking off Oasis sophomore quarterback Parker Smith three times — once each by sophomore Frankie Clark, senior Jason Albano and freshman Dylan Walker.

ODA senior Griffin DeRusso (26) stiff arms Oasis junior Christopher Moorehead. DeRusso has four touchdowns run in the Thunder's first two games. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
ODA senior Griffin DeRusso (26) stiff arms Oasis junior Christopher Moorehead. DeRusso has four touchdowns run in the Thunder's first two games. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)

After allowing two early touchdowns, one of which was aided by a flea flicker that fooled the Thunder defense, Oasis was held scoreless until the game was decided. 

Through just two games, ODA has buried memories of its struggles the past few seasons. The two-game win streak is the team's first back-to-back wins since 2019, when the team won five consecutive games to open the season before finishing 6-3.

After Oasis led 14-8 after one quarter, the Thunder ripped off 36 consecutive points.

Asked if there is a limit on what the Thunder can accomplish this season, DeRusso chuckled. 

"I don't think there is one," DeRusso said of a limit. "Not if we play how we have played. Up and down the roster, we have some dogs."

New-look ODA will be given a stress test in its next game Sept. 9 when it plays rival Saint Stephen's Episcopal. The Falcons are 0-2 but have played tougher competition than ODA. They also have a top running back in junior Evan Brown, whom Hollway said torched the Thunder defense when the two teams played in the spring. Of course, the school's baseball players had yet to join the football team then, so things will look different this time. The fact remains that Saint Stephen's has won eight-straight games in the series dating back to 2013 — the two schools did not play in 2020 or 2021. 

"We will need to limit big plays and penalties," Hollway said. "I'm excited to play them." 



Ryan Kohn

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.

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