By JASON DILL
Needs a big season from: Senior offensive linemen
They don't have the biggest guys in high school football, but that's OK for head coach Brett Timmons as the Out-of-Door Academy Thunder break camp.
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Timmons is taking a page out of the book of the 1998 Denver Broncos, who upset the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl.
Bigger isn't always better.
"Some of that is schemes, what we do offensively to try to help these guys out," Timmons said. "We're not asking these guys to be world (beaters) and to mash people. We're just asking them to create a crack so our running backs can make a move and go from there."
A trio of senior linemen who weigh between 185 and 225 pounds will use their speed and quickness run interference for a team that lost heralded quarterback Evan Wilson to graduation.
Each is a leader looking to shore up a line that have must improve if the Thunder are going to return to playoffs for the first time since 2010.
"There's not much of a drop-off from the seniors," said senior lineman Kevin Grathwohl about how fast the younger guys are picking up the offensive system.
In addition to Grathwohl, Max Provost and Quinton Fitzgerald are expected to lead the line for a team that is breaking in a new quarterback.
"Those guys being in the program for four years, that's who we need to lean on, because everything happens up front," Timmons said. "They're probably the most unsung group of the team. ... Nothing happens unless those five guys (or) four guys up front make it happen on Friday nights."
Impact newcomer: Jimmy Kuebler, jr., QB/WR
A baseball player by trade, Kuebler is playing football this fall and is making a push to become the program's starting quarterback. He's mired in a tight competition with Nate Strawderman, and neither player had won the job heading into the Kickoff Classic against Naples First Baptist. "Jimmy provides upperclass leadership that we need," Timmons said.
Deep at: Skill
ODA is loaded in the wide receiver, defensive back and running back spots, which will help the new quarterback. Roughly 12 or 13 players of the 30 on the Thunder's roster are skill guys, which could make for some exciting plays this fall.
Thin at: Experience
Despite the senior leadership up front, there are some key cogs missing from last year's team. That included the gun-slinging Wilson, which leaves open space for new bodies to emerge. But that means fans will have to endure some growing pains as the offense gets turned over to either Kuebler or Strawderman.
Herald's forecast: 5-4
The youth on this team reminds Timmons of his first club at the school, when the Thunder debuted as a new program in 2006. After losing Evan Wilson to graduation, there's a glaring hole that needs filling at quarterback. While the race for that job is still at a fever pitch, whoever earns the gig will have growing pains as he adapts to varsity football. So the young players -- 14 players from the spring game were in the eighth grade -- will need time to mature and become a core group that should contend for the playoffs. It just won't happen this season, as the Thunder move up a classification with Cardinal Mooney and Fort Myers Bishop Verot.
Brett Timmons, eighth season, 42-27
By the numbers
2,666 - Evan Wilson's passing yards last season as a senior
9 - Regular-season games for ODA after one game was scratched with no replacement
50% - Roughly half the roster consists of skill position players
Aug. 30 BRADENTON CHRISTIAN
Sept. 6 at Clearwater Calvary Christian
Sept. 13 at Booker#
Sept. 20 TAMPA CITRUS PARK CHRISTIAN
Oct. 4 FORT MYERS BISHOP VEROT*
Oct. 11 NAPLES COMMUNITY SCHOOL
Oct. 18 at Cardinal Mooney*
Oct. 25 at Saint Stephen's
Nov. 1 LAKELAND VICTORY CHRISTIAN
Games at 7 p.m., unless noted
Home games in ALL CAPS
*-Class 3A-District 6 game
KEY GAME: Oct. 4 vs. Fort Myers Bishop Verot
Moving into a three-team district leaves zero room for error, so a victory in the first meaningful contest of the year against a team that went 1-9 last season should assure the Thunder a trip to the postseason. However, that's easier said than done. ODA is moving up from Class 2A to Class 3A this season and is doing so with a youthful side. The good news? It's a home game, and the Thunder can avoid the dreaded FieldTurf that the Vikings have used in the past to wipe out opponents.
2012 results 5-5, 4-3 2A(urban)-6
at St. Pete Catholic L, 63-21
at Naples Community School W, 33-22
at Moore Haven L, 48-10
NAPLES ST. JOHN NEUMANN L, 42-21
at Fort Myers Evangelical Chr. W, 40-37 (OT)
NORTH PORT IMAGINE SCHOOL W, 27-14
SOUTHWEST FLORIDA CHR. W, 52-16
NAPLES FIRST BAPTIST L, 48-42
SAINT STEPHEN'S W, 42-20
CARDINAL MOONEY L, 27-14