SARASOTA -- The Out-of-Door Academy football team entered Thursday's non-district game at Class 5A Booker facing adversity.
The Thunder, a Class 3A program, were short-handed and without a quarterback.
Earlier in the week, starting quarterback Jimmy Kuebler left the team to focus on baseball, while Nate Strawderman, who saw game action in the opener against Bradenton Christian and was in competition with Kuebler throughout the summer, transferred to Lakewood Ranch, head coach Brett Timmons said.
That left Timmons to scurry to find Kuebler's replacement. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Jeremy Herrin was thrust into the role this week.
Add in the bumps and bruises that forced several key players to miss Thursday's game, the Thunder were fighting an uphill battle.
So while the Tornadoes polished off a 55-0 victory that featured a running clock in the second half, it was a learning experience for a youthful ODA squad.
"It is what it is," said Timmons, whose team is 75 percent freshmen. "To me, this is glorified freshman football season for us. Actually, this is a 10-week spring football season for us in the sense that we're using this to develop, to grow, to understand the speed of the game to play up against teams like Booker, teams like Cardinal Mooney and Bishop Verot that we know now as freshmen what it takes."
One player, though, stood out for ODA (0-3).
Thunder punter Brian Kirshe and Timmons have a
friendly wager going. If Kirshe averages 50 yards on punts each game throughout the season, Timmons will supply him with 25 wings from Buffalo Wild Wings.
On Thursday, Kirshe delivered punts of 77 and 63 yards. Booker did not put a returner back because of its large lead.
"He didn't the first two games, so he doubled or nothing and owed me 50 wings Tuesday," Timmons joked. "This week, I owe him 25 wings next Tuesday. ... Just find a way to motivate him, keep him motivated and keep him doing what he needs to hopefully at the next level."
While the matchup had a spring game feel to it -- Booker used junior varsity players in the second half as the clock kept chugging along -- the Tornadoes landed big punches on offense and on special teams in the first half.
Booker led 42-0 at the break, thanks to Darius Jones' touchdown runs of 23 and 50 yards as well as Shamyren Waters' 60-yard scoring punt return and a punt block that was recovered in ODA's end zone by John Joseph.
Marlon Mack also tacked on two touchdown runs as the Tornadoes blew the game open with 27 points in the second quarter.
"It's a game-changing play," Booker head coach Johnnie Jones said about his club's special teams performance. "I broke it down to them. I went through each level. I say, 'NFL, who are the first guys to take the field in the Super Bowl? Special teams. National championship, who are the first guys to take the field in the national championship? Special teams. High school state championships, who are the first guys to take the field? Special teams.' It's a special part of the ball game, and I want my best 11 on my special teams."
ODA's offense generated one first down and produced four turnovers to pair with 24 total yards.
The Thunder's defense was gouged for 344 rushing yards, highlighted by junior varsity player Jamal Benson's five carries for 100 yards to pace the Tornadoes, which did not attempt a pass.