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ODA football uses spring season to reload

The Thunder program wants back-to-back SSAA titles, and the journey begins now.

ODA linebacker Heath DeRusso holds the football aloft after recovering a fumble against Sarasota Christian in the team's spring game. DeRusso said the team is feeling no extra pressure after winning a SSAA Class 4A title last season.
ODA linebacker Heath DeRusso holds the football aloft after recovering a fumble against Sarasota Christian in the team's spring game. DeRusso said the team is feeling no extra pressure after winning a SSAA Class 4A title last season.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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After capturing the Sunshine State Athletic Association Class 4A title in November, The Out-of-Door Academy football program had question marks entering this spring. 

There were key players to replace. Charlie Tack, the team's top linebacker and leader, graduated and is headed for Furman University in the fall. Starting offensive linemen Blake Neumann and Blaine Bentley also graduated, as did linebacker Chase Taraska, safety Jack Taraska and linebacker Brandon Beasley on defense. The program also lost one of its special weapons, kicker/punter Mika Levy, who graduated and will play for Howard University. 

Outside of graduating players, brothers and offensive linemen Chase Polivchak, a rising senior, and Max Polivchak, a rising junior, transferred to Cardinal Mooney High, which won the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S state title in 2023. 

In having to replace four starters on the offensive line and several more on defense, a step back, at least in spring, could have been expected. Instead, in the Thunder's home spring game against Sarasota Christian School on May 18, the program looked like nothing had changed. 

The Thunder ran the football to the left, to the right and up the middle on the Blazers, thanks mostly to rising junior running back Allen Clark and rising senior Josey Rubinstein — who played quarterback for ODA this spring but could move somewhere else come fall, Head Coach Rob Hollway said. Against SCS, Clark had a five-yard touchdown run and Rubinstein had two touchdown runs, of 15 and 30 yards, in a 20-0 win.

The margin of victory could have been even bigger, but the programs agreed to stop keeping score in the second half, turning the game into a glorified practice, with each team letting their more inexperienced players learn the game. The Thunder's defense also got to shine, with rising junior linebacker Heath DeRusso recovering a fumble that led to Clark's touchdown. 

It's exactly how the Thunder expected to play, changes and all. 

"I think we have a good expectation of what the fall is going to look like," DeRusso said. "We're ready to work. I actually think we're starting off a little stronger than we were last year. There have been some changes, but we're still using a lot of the same concepts, so it has been good." 

ODA running back Allen Clark runs up the middle against Sarasota Christian in the team's spring game. Clark ran for 1,104 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2023.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Though the team did lose four offensive linemen over the winter, the one returnee is a key cog in the Thunder running machine. Marvin Palominos, a rising senior, is 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds. He's adept at opening holes for ODA runners. After the spring game, Hollway praised both Palominos and Clark, who had 1,104 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns last season, for sticking around the program. 

"Every school in the county would take Marvin and Allen," Hollway said. "Those guys made a decision to stay. I believe the kids that stay and commit to a team are more recruitable because coaches feel like they are getting a four-year guy, not someone who is going to flip on them in the middle of the night."

ODA is probably not ever going to be the biggest team, Hollway said, or the team with the most top athletes, but the Thunder will always play hard, physical football. The players believe in that identity, Hollway said, which in turn creates more focus and energy during practice. The Thunder is always ready to play, Hollway said. 

Not all of the team's starting positions are settled. Rubinstein, for example, is a soccer and lacrosse player who will play varsity football for the first time this fall.

Rubinstein threw just one pass against SCS, which fell incomplete, but looked comfortable running with the ball. Even if his ultimate position is not quarterback, Hollway said, Rubinstein proved that there is a spot for him on the offense somewhere. Second-string quarterback Winston Crisci, a rising junior, also looked comfortable running with the ball, and had a 25-yard touchdown run in the practice session of the spring game. 

While there is still work to do, the Thunder is not afraid to have fun while that work is done. After the two teams stopped keeping score, several ODA players danced and laughed on the sidelines to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" and other songs. It was the look of a team that accomplished what it wanted to accomplish. 

DeRusso summed up the team's confidence heading into summer. 

"We're ready to go back-to-back," DeRusso said.



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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