Two-thirds of the way through spring practice, the ODU football team takes on the competition – The Virginian-Pilot


NORFOLK – Old Dominion's 10th practice this spring is considered a win for the offense.

But the defense doesn't have to like it.

The Monarchs reached the two-thirds mark of spring training this week, meaning they only have five practices left before heading home after the semester.

Quarterback Grant Wilson led the offense to a successful afternoon and the players on the other side of the ball were looking forward to their day.

“Oh, that motivates us,” said linebacker Mario Thompson, a Richmond native who started eight games last season as a true freshman. “It honestly makes us angry. We want to keep up and want our offense to achieve good results. But against us it’s like we really want to do good too.”

Coming off a 6-7 season and its second bowl appearance in three years, ODU is working to build chemistry and identity before reconvening for summer workouts. Competition only helps, even if it occasionally leads to bitterness.

“We talked a lot about how we need to be together and have a fist mentality and how we're all together and not apart and how we're stronger together and things like that,” said fifth-year coach Ricky Rahne, who takes his position in the fall fourth season will begin on the show's sidelines. “We had a few problems here and there, but overall I think the guys did pretty well.”

The Monarchs played in 11 one-score games last season, including their 38-35 overtime loss to Western Kentucky in the Famous Toastery Bowl. Since Division I was founded in 1978, no team has played more one-score contests.

For this reason, the team trains with a specific goal.

“I would say the main focus this spring and next season is just finishing,” said tight end Jalen Butler, a rising junior. “Last year we didn’t finish at times. The main focus is just finishing every play and every game.”

Part of what Rahne did was address players' weaknesses. For example, if a receiver is having trouble catching deep balls or a safety is having trouble in man coverage, the players on the other side of the ball will try to create these scenarios in live scrimmage situations to see how they deal with it.

“We saw that he made some improvements in the drilling work,” Rahne said. “We've seen him make some improvements one-on-one, but let's see if he can do it in a team where he doesn't know what to expect.”

As spring camp gets tighter and the August 31 season opener at South Carolina inches closer, the Monarchs will continue to test each other. Some days are for offense, others are for defense.

The highlight of spring ball is the Priority Charity Bowl Spring Game on April 13 at SB Ballard Stadium, an event that seems closer to the players than it is.

“It goes by quickly,” Thompson said. “When you’re on the field and out there competing and all that stuff, it goes by quickly.”

Rahne, whose team had to sit out the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, agreed.

“It seems like we haven’t been going that long,” he said.

“The craziest thing about it is that after that they essentially have another half a week or a week of school and then they have to take final exams. And then they're not here for about a month. So yeah, the semester went by really, really quickly. There is no doubt about that.”

David Hall, [email protected].