LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The spring football season is all about gauging progression made from the first practice until the spring game.
It's also about players putting themselves in the driver's seat to win a starting job in position battles.
At Out-of-Door Academy, the biggest fight going on this spring is for the quarterback job.
Tyler Dietrich and Nathan Strawderman are competing for the right to take over from last year's starter, Evan Wilson, who departs after a 3 ½years as the Thunder's signal-caller.
"You've got to find somebody else that can drive the car," ODA head coach Brett Timmons said.
Right now, though, Strawderman isn't really competing against Dietrich. That's because Dietrich, a rising junior, isn't in camp because of baseball obligations.
So that has left Strawderman, a rising freshman, as Timmons' choice to lead the team into Friday's spring game at St. Petersburg Northside Christian.
"What we don't know about him is how does he respond when live bullets fly," Timmons said. "And Friday will be a test to find out. Can he hold his own?"
Strawderman developed in the East Manatee Bulldogs Pop Warner program.
But youth football isn't high school football.
"Things happen a lot faster than what you're used to," said Timmons about the speed of the prep game. "Your reaction in the youth league, you can hold onto the ball an extra two, three seconds because the kids are not that fast. They are not going to break on it. So some of the throws you made back then, you probably can't
make now because kids now anticipate it a little bit better. Same thing when you go to college. Kids have gotten faster, bigger and stronger, so their anticipation is a little bit better. That's basically what it is."
Strawderman, a left-hander, is what Timmons calls a "gym rat and student of the game." Stawderman also asked questions in an effort to understand the Thunder's offensive system and improve his own game.
"It's a big step, the questions are, because I'm trying to learn about all the new defenses," Strawderman said.
Aiding in the maturation process is what Strawderman picked up from Wilson as he watched the heralded quarterback run ODA's offense last fall.
Strawderman said he learned how much faster the game is at the prep level.
Not only has that helped, but developing chemistry with the wide receivers has done wonders, too.
"Sometimes we throw on the off days," Stawderman said. "I feel confident with my receivers here."
However, Strawderman hasn't won the starting gig quite yet.
Dietrich has experience and athleticism seen at a high level on the baseball diamond and gridiron as well as a working knowledge of the playbook.
But just like Friday's game is used as a gauge for the entire team, it also can give Strawderman a leg up in the race to become the starting quarterback as the program heads into the summer and, ultimately, the fall season.