SARASOTA -- Drawing on what NBA star Stephen Curry did this year in winning the league's Most Valuable Player award despite not looking like the prototypical basketball superstar in the mold of a Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Michael Jordan, the Out-of-Door Academy football program is also relying on hard work this spring.
"It was something I heard on YouTube that was tweeted out by (Penn State football coach) James Franklin, it was in regards to Stephen Curry," Thunder head coach Brett Timmons said. "It's just a simple question: 'Are your habits for today on par with your future or your plans for tomorrow?' Everybody talks about winning. Everybody talks about wanting to be successful, but you've got to work at it."
The Thunder have struggled holding play up front in the trenches with their line play, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, in the past couple seasons.
But now, a majority of ODA's roster is made up of rising sophomores and rising juniors that makes the upcoming fall season an in
triguing one for Timmons and the Thunder fans.
It offers a glimpse into how close the team is getting with its talent, increased size and experience to handle opponents.
"If you look at in terms of track, I think we are turning the corner and getting ready to head to the straight-away and getting back to what this program has been prior to the last couple years," Timmons said.
And those last couple years were rough ones for ODA. The Thunder went 3-16 over the last two seasons, and only had one senior last year.
But the last two years provided training ground for the youthful group as ODA continued to get experience and mature.
The Thunder might be another year away, but a crop of sophomores and juniors are closer to bridging the gap from a team that found it difficult on either side of the ball to the team that is capable of fighting for a postseason berth.
That's partly due to the offensive line, which is expected to feature two rising juniors with some muscle and height in tackle Brad Hansall (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and tackle Chris Robinson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds).
"We potentially have a nice sized line," Timmons said. "We have two tackles that are over 6-foot-3."
Rising senior Todd Humphrey, who stands 6-foot-1 and is 180 pounds, is another lineman with experience for ODA.
"It's been a rough couple of years, but I feel like we're starting to get it together for this year," said Humphrey, who plays offensive guard and defensive line. "Our guys have definitely gotten a lot bigger and we haven't really lost anyone."
Having that line play enables a playmaker like running back Najee Rhodes the holes to maneuver through compared to what was available the last two seasons.
"It was brutal, actually," Rhodes said of the previous couple seasons. "I would just try to push through it, man. I couldn't do anything else but push through it. ... I feel like we've improved a lot."
Humphrey and Rhodes both said they are looking forward to playing the spring game.
That first test to see just how close the Thunder are getting to gelling comes Friday at 7 p.m., when ODA travels to St. Petersburg Northside Christian.