Out-of-Door Academy Thunder football team eager to see new crop of receivers in action

jdill@bradenton.comMay 16, 2012 

SARASOTA -- Brandon Place had reps at the wide receiver position last fall, but the rising senior was No. 5 on the pecking order behind some talented options that are departing from the Out-of-Door Academy Thunder football program.

That includes the playmaking Brian Ragone and standout Jimmy Donnellan.

While replacing those two players is next to impossible, the Thunder already has dealt with playing without the pair.

Ragone missed nearly half the season with a broken collarbone, and Donnellan missed the last few games with appendicitis.

"They're young, but they are talented," rising senior quarterback Evan Wilson said. "I see a lot of potential. They have the skill, but just getting in the system and playing receiver, we have to be on the same page. They have to be thinking same thing I am thinking every play, and once we develop that, it'll be just like having Brian back there."

Place, though, brings stability and leadership to a crop of young wide receivers that includes newcomers like Tre Gregory and Hunter Clarke.

Gregory is a rising sophomore and despite Clarke entering as a rising senior, he'll be seeing major action with the Thunder's football team for the first time.

That could make things difficult, but ODA head coach Brett Timmons said each player brings something different.

"They're all unique and have their own style," Timmons said. "I think Brandon brings a toughness. He's kind of cut from the cloth of Wes Welker … Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots.

Hunter's a tough kid, a bluecollar kid, soccer kid. This will be his second year playing football, but his first year really getting major time at receiver, and has improved considerably over the course of the year."

Timmons added Gregory runs several track events, and provides speed to the receiving corps.

That plays into what the Thunder, who went 5-5 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, will try to do on offense. And that's creating a spread offense with a stable of go-to throwing options for Wilson.

"That's what we've got to do," Timmons said. "I mean, we're not the biggest team in the world, so we have to steal a page from Nolan Richardson (former basketball head coach) from the Arkansas Razorbacks. We try to make it 48 minutes of pure speed up and down the field."

To help with developing consistency and cohesion in the passing game, Wilson and his receivers tend to stay at least 30 minutes after practice working on improvement, timing and other passing/receiving specific skills.

Yet there is still inherit pressure trying to fill the void left by Ragone and Donnellan.

However, Place said having gone through the experience without them at times due to injuries last year helps the club moving forward.

"We didn't just jump into this year shocked without the two of them playing with us," Place said. "We've kind of adjusted to it over last year."

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