ODU begins fall football practice with 58 new players and a new-look offense

Toward the end of 43rd Street from Hampton Boulevard, past baseball players warming up at Bud Metheny Baseball Stadium and signs directing drivers to the Jeff Jones Basketball Camp, was the latest sign that Old Dominion’s campus was springing back to life for the fall semester Wednesday afternoon.
Enjoying sunny skies and unseasonably mild weather outside the L.R. Hill Sports Complex, ODU’s football team went through its first formal practice of fall camp.
Wearing helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, the Monarchs worked out for just under two hours as they took the first earnest steps toward improving on last season’s 3-9 showing.
Fourth-year coach Ricky Rahne said there was plenty to be learned in just one day.
“Quite a bit,” he said. “One thing you can learn is which guys were working and studying and doing all that sort of stuff over the summer. We’re not able to be out here when they’re doing 7-on-7 against each other and stuff over the summer and those sort of things, in the NCAA’s infinite wisdom.
“You can see the guys playing with confidence and know that they earned that confidence.”
ODU, which last won a game on Oct. 15, at Coastal Carolina, will open the season Sept. 2 at Virginia Tech with 58 new players, including 41 on scholarship.
The Monarchs started last season 3-3 before a series of injuries helped pry the wheels off, leading to losses in their final six games.
For the returning players, it’s a vivid memory.
“Nobody wants to lose,” said senior offensive lineman Leroy Thomas. “We’re all competitors. For guys that were here last year, it’s not fun going 3-9. It’s not fun losing games. That’s really all my focus is, especially this being my last year. I just want to win as many games as possible.”
ODU will deploy a new-look offense under first-year coordinator Kevin Decker, who held the same position for four seasons at Fordham.
The Monarchs finished last in the Sun Belt Conference with 19.5 points per game in 2022.
Asked how the offense might be different under Decker, Rahne spoke in hopeful generalities.
“I hope the first thing we do is to score more points,” Rahne said. “We can’t keep our defense on the field for as long as it (was). That’s one thing that’s going to happen. I just think we’re going to play with more confidence and give them a few more answers and let them be kind of the masters of those answers instead of us dictating what the answers are for them.”
ODU returns just five starters on offense and three on defense. Among the departed are quarterback Hayden Wolff, receiver Ali Jennings and running back Blake Watson, all of whom bolted for the increasingly active NCAA transfer portal.
Wolff’s departure to Western Michigan leaves two inexperienced quarterbacks — junior Grant Wilson, a transfer backup from Fordham, and redshirt freshman Jack Shields, a former walk-on who is now on scholarship — to compete for the job.
Rahne said it’s far too early to name a frontrunner for the position, adding that the players will split first-team reps for the foreseeable future.
Citing his own experience with obscure quarterbacks who have led successful teams, Rahne said fans shouldn’t be wary of the pair’s lack of in-game snaps.
“Talent and hard work overcomes experience,” Rahne said. “Talent beats experience when talent gets experience, so we’ve got to continue to give them as many game reps as we can out here on the field. And that’s what we preach, is that these practice reps lead to the game reps.”
As those game reps barrel closer, the Monarchs are back to their annual fall routine. Wednesday was just a start.
“I think everything went well,” said junior linebacker EJ Green, a Williamsburg native. “I think we executed. Little mistakes here and there, but it’s the first day. We’ll get better as it goes on, for sure.”

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