Out-of-Door Academy coach Chris Kempton doesn’t care for comparisons, especially to previous seasons.
“We are trying to impress on these guys that they need to create their own identity, their own culture and become their own team,” the first-year coach said. “We’ve said to them, ‘What kind of team do you want to be.’ ”
Ideally, it will be a team that produces back-to-back winning records and playoff appearances for the first time this decade and improves on last year’s 6-2 record. Also likely on the to-do list is beating Saint Stephen’s, which ended the Thunder’s season in the second round of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference playoffs and outscored ODA 103-7 in two games a year ago.
In comparison, the Thunder outscored all other foes 197-73.
“Do we want to build off last year? Absolutely,” said Kempton, who served as an assistant to Ken Sommers the past two seasons. “As far as record and wins go, we aren’t talking about that. We certainly have goals, and being a playoff team again is one of them. But, first and foremost, we need to … see what kind of identity we are going to establish.”
To that end, ODA will keep the same 3-3-5 defensive set and switch from the triple-option to a more-balanced attack.
What to watch for in 2018
The physicality of the offensive line likely will write the story of this season. Four starters return led by tackles Tucker Harris and Ethan Marino. Both are senior captains.
Junior center Brian Lutton and senior guard Banks Paxton also return. Sebastian Frias-Imbert and Mike Dyer will be in the guard rotation, as Kempton is stressing versatility across the line as insurance against injury.
“These guys have to be physical and move guys up front; that is an area we are working really hard on right now,” Kempton said.
The other barometer of success will be the breakdown in the number of snaps taken by starting quarterback Tyler Beasley and the combination of Jarred Flahive and Colin Castro.
If the offense is working as designed, Beasley will be the workhorse while Flahive and Castro provide a wildcat look that teams must prepare for.
“Beasley had a great spring game and has picked up right where he left off,” Kempton said. “He is throwing extremely well and has a great understanding of the offense.”
What can go right
Flahive, Grady Paxton, Castro and Leland Wheeler are as disruptive on offense as Kempton thinks they will be.
“Castro and Wheeler will be H-backs; they are jacks of all trades who will do a little blocking, a little receiving and a little ball carrying,” Kempton said. “We have a decent number of skill players, so we want to make certain we spread the ball around.”
Nose guard Tomas Giacinti and defensive end Dylan Dennehy wreak havoc. Kempton calls his linebacker corps the strongest unit of the defense. So if the junior and senior, respectively, become forces in the trenches, the defense could be better than last year.
What can go wrong
Injuries to kicker Filip Svoboda, Beasley or the veteran linemen would have wide-ranging impact.
A deep receiving corps doesn’t have a deep track record. Svoboda, Julien Brown, Tanner Fairchild and James Larson draw praise from Kempton and show the ability to adjust to balls in the air. But none was called on much in the triple-option attack.
For this year’s playbook full of interior runs, perimeter screens and other quick-developing plays to work, the vertical passing game has to keep defenses from stacking the box.
Svoboda is one of the area’s elite kickers, and he has the college interest to support the status. On an early August practice day he demonstrated why, converting all seven field goal attempts from 40 yards or more and all three attempts from 50-yards plus.
“He has a legitimate Division I leg,” Kempton said. “It is very valuable, especially to the defensive coordinator, when you have somebody who is kicking the ball through the end zone and punts it 40 yards or more. It makes my job much easier when teams have to the length of the field to score.”
And, for those looking for the next big thing, defensive back Nolan Lewellen may fit the bill. The sophomore has been playing his way into significant playing time with a strong preseason.
“He has done phenomenal with interceptions, pass breakups,” Kempton said. “He is another who is going to be somebody to keep an eye on.”
The last word
“As far as the coaching staff, there is no transition,” Kempton said of his ascension to the top job. “We’ve been together as a staff for three years, and we lean on each other a lot. Certainly, my personality is different than Ken, but that will be the case with anybody. But we are all on the same page — all working together. I am fortunate to have this coaching staff because we enjoy working together.”
ODA’s 2018 schedule
Aug. 24 at Fort Myers Canterbury, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 vs. Tampa Bayshore Christian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Bradenton Christian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 vs. Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 at St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Kennedy Catholic (Somers, N.Y.), 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7 p.m.
Source: Bradenton Heraldhttps://www.bradenton.com/sports/article216600755.html