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There Will Finally Be Football At Ballard Stadium For ODU

On September 11th, 2001, the world changed.

Fast forward to March 11th, 2020, and it changed again.

When Old Dominion opens its home slate Saturday on September 11th, 2021, those two dates will clash.

For those who don’t remember, March 11th, 2020 was the date the NBA shut down due to the COVID pandemic. The NBA shutdown drove the reality of the situation home to many, and within the next few weeks, all sports leagues suspended their seasons and much of the county stopped.

Old Dominion would cancel their season later that summer, pushing new head coach Ricky Rahne’s debut back a year or so.

Now, 18 months after that shutdown, and exactly 20 years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 that changed the country, the Monarchs are ready to hit the field with the magnitude of this date in their minds

That (ODU home opener) is going to be the thing that signals Norfolk is back and ready to go,”  Rahne said at Conference USA's media day. “That first game in S.B. Ballard Stadium at Kornblau Field will be tremendous for us and an awesome deal. I’m pushing hard to make sure we sell that thing out and get as many people in the seats as possible.”

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For Levi Wentz, Bumpy Roads Have Led To Beautiful Places

When Levi Wentz signed with ODU on Signing Day in 2020, it was the completion of one journey, but the beginning of an even greater one.

Wentz, a three-star defensive back out of Pine-Richland High School in Pennsylvania, only played one year of high school football, but his journey to signing with the Monarchs was one that was, to put it in a word, unfathomable to most.

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Sports)
For Levi Wentz (11), It Has Been A Long Journey To ODU

As a kid, Levi, along with his brother and sister, bounced in and out of foster homes until being adopted by the Wentz family in 2012.

“I grew up in foster care and had to basically raise my brother and sister. Kids like me aren’t supposed to make it out and I was blessed with the right people surrounding me to be able to be where I am today,” Levi told me back when he signed with the Monarchs in February of 2020.

“It has been a long journey and I'm blessed to be here,” Wentz said. “I'm ready to put in the work, play my role, compete and do what I have to do.”

Wentz chose the Monarchs over Army, Navy, and a host of Ivy League and FCS schools before signing and enrolling in August of 2020.

Now, with Wentz’s first college football game approaching as the Monarchs travel to Wake Forest to open their season tonight, Wentz prepares for a new challenge, that being his transition from defensive back to linebacker for Ricky Rahne’s Monarchs.

“I think with Levi, his natural athletic ability is very high, it’s just about developing all those other things in football that some guys get when they are 14, 15, 16 years old and he was just playing basketball,” Rahne remarked earlier in fall camp. “The football IQ stuff and just how to do a few things, for example. Football is not a real natural game so you have to be trained. I think he has made some huge strides and that athletic ability is going to really help us out in the end.”

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Tyran Hunt Hoping To Cook Up Something Special For ODU

In a year of change for Old Dominion, many transfers have come into the program, but the most unique might be Maryland transfer offensive lineman Tyran Hunt.

Over his three years at Maryland, Hunt appeared in two games after redshirting as a freshman. But while Hunt can be a beast on the field, he is equally as good as a chef in the kitchen.

“My favorite dish is baked mac 'n cheese,” Hunt says. “I can make it with my eyes closed.”

Not all his off-field kitchen adventures have been good, however, as Hunt nearly burnt down his apartment while trying to perfect a certain culinary masterpiece.

“I had a great friend who I had cooked chicken cordon bleu with,” Hunt says. “ I was trying to be spontaneous and cook it on my own. I put it in the oven, baked it at the perfect temperature and everything. I went to check on it and it wasn't done in the middle, so I turned up the oven a little bit, and the next thing I knew I smelled smoke. I literally almost burnt down my apartment. I haven't made chicken cordon bleu since, but hopefully, I'll get back to it.”

Hunt still hasn’t attempted the chicken cordon bleu again, but has expanded his interests in the kitchen since arriving at ODU, including getting fancy with a famous Northern Italian dish, putting his own spin on it to help fuel him on the field.

“I would say my best dish is alfredo,” Hunt remarked. “I put all the protein in it. I put bacon, shrimp, chicken, and make the alfredo sauce from scratch. I take pride in that.”

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Britt Looking To Go From Zero To Hero For Monarchs

The numbers people talked about when linebacker Malcolm Britt was the senior leader of Oscar Smith’s defense? A 13-2 record and a state final.

The numbers people talk about now that Britt is in his first season with Old Dominion? Zero. As in the number he'll become the first Old Dominion football player to ever wear.

A mere two weeks after hiring Ricky Rahne as the newest Old Dominion head coach, the Monarchs landed their biggest local commit to date in Britt, and now as a new season approaches, Britt is ready to hit the field.

A three-star linebacker coming out of nearby Oscar Smith, Britt had his choice of schools, including the likes of Army, Navy, Liberty, and a host of others, but on December 18th, 2019, Britt put pen to paper and made his commitment to Old Dominion official by signing his letter of intent. He was the 6A defensive player of the year, earned All-Tidewater honors, and was ranked as the No. 10 player in Hampton Roads by the Virginian Pilot. 

Now, after almost 18 months and a canceled season due to COVID, it’s time for Britt to shine.

“It’s a great experience being able to be on the field again,” Britt said. “It’s everything you dreamed of from high school coming to college, now we finally get to experience that this year. It’s exciting to look forward to.”

Coming out of Oscar Smith, Britt was at that time the 18th best recruit to sign with ODU, according to 247 Sports. Since that moment, the work ODU has done in the Commonwealth, and in the 757 has been nothing short of remarkable.

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After An 18 Month Wait, James Is Ready To Play For ODU

It's been 18 months since LaMareon James signed his letter of intent to play for Old Dominion.

A lot has happened since.

One of the most athletic high school football players in recent memory in the area, the former Indian River 3-star cornerback is finally going to show off his talents on Sept. 11,  when ODU plays its first home game since November of 2019. He'll be joined by a number of highly-ranked players from the Commonwealth, as his signing set off what some may even call a paradigm shift in recruiting within the state. A plethora of highly-sought after talent has followed since James decided to pick the Monarchs.

“It feels good to know that I started something big,” James said. “I’m from Norfolk, so knowing that the whole city is behind me, that's a big blessing for me. Ever since I was little it has been like this. Knowing I can play in front of my hometown is big for me.”

The hype around James ever since youth football resembles a hurricane, and landfall will be coming at the home opener. Ever since he first put pads on, people have thought James was a special talent. He was ranked as the No. 3 recruit in Hampton Roads by the Virginian Pilot, was a two-time first-team All-Tidewater selection and was named first-team All-Region his senior year. Rivals rated him the No. 7 recruit in the state, and as a senior caught 24 passes for 681 yards, rushed for 475 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus recorded 5 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns on defense.

That hype could form pressure, but for James, he embraces it.

“I don't look at it as pressure, I’m the type of person who likes that," James said. "I like pressure and I like showing it out in front of people. I have a lot of people who have been doubting me since I was little so it doesn't pressure me, it makes me go harder in the game and show out for my hometown.”

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Old Dominion Football Notebook: Are You Sore? Or Injured?

With only a few open practices left before Old Dominion plays Wake Forest, storylines are popping up all over the place for the Monarchs, and multiple guys are showing why they deserve playing time.

After the two most recent sessions, it’s time to sit down and evaluate what has happened on the field and prognosticate a bit:

Being Sore Vs. Injured

Toward the end of Monday’s session, head coach Ricky Rahne told his players there is a difference between being “sore” and being “injured”. In a sport as physical as football, that line can often be a gray area.

“Football is a game of toughness,” Rahne remarked. “Quite frankly all sports are nowadays with the amount of physical prowess with the people that are out there. So there are going to be days when you are sore and muscles are going to ache, but there is a big difference being injured where you physically can’t perform.”

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ODU Football Notebook: New Players Making Their Mark

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Sports)
Levi Wentz (11) Has Shown Exceptional Speed At Linebacker

Under a blazing Norfolk summer sun, Old Dominion has completed its first few practices on the march towards the Monarchs' September 3rd opener at Wake Forest. A few things of note that have happened thus far near the corner of Powhatan and West 43rd:

Bly Making Good on Last Name

During the first practice last Thursday, freshman receiver Jordan Bly made a spectacular catch from Hayden Wolff, as a 40-yard pass to Bly was juggled and almost intercepted before Bly came down on his back with the ball.

After making some great strides during spring camp, Bly has continued to impress and was on the second team taking kick returns as well.

“He had a great practice,” head coach Ricky Rahne said after the first session last Thursday. “He plays with some confidence and I’m excited about how he went out there and for him, it’s always going to be about what kind of confidence he plays with because he certainly is a talented player and I think he can help us this year.”

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Who Will Start At Quarterback For Old Dominion Sept. 3?

For the first time in two years, ODU will see the field when the Monarchs travel to Wake Forest to open their season on September 3rd.

But first, there's fall camp, and the biggest question being asked after the two session that have been open to the media is this: “Who will start at QB?”

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Sports)
Hayden Wolff

UCF transfer D.J. Mack, redshirt freshman Hayden Wolff, and senior Stone Smartt are the three QBs vying for the job. Coming into camp, I thought it would be Mack, but so far Wolff has shown more promise, even without the mobility of Mack, or Smartt.

Mack has shown flashes of why some think he may be the starter, especially in the play-action game. But Wolff benefits from having been here, as he is a standard pocket-passer who can run when needed, though not to the level of Mack or Smartt.

“Coach (Kirk) Campbell has done a really nice job of rotating them (QBs),” Old Dominion head coach Ricky Rahne remarked. “It’s been one of those things where they have each made an impression and each has to keep going."

"We are still at least a week, maybe a week and a half away from deciding,” Rahne said about the quarterbacks. “Right now they are doing a good job and we are very much in the process.”

Smartt was the starter much of 2019 when ODU went 1-11, but couldn't break out that season and grab the reins as Wolff started three games, and Smartt shared time with Messiah deWeaver.

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Rahne May Be One Of The Nicest People You'll Ever Meet

Behind every public figure is usually a private person many of us never get to see.

For Old Dominion head football coach Ricky Rahne, however, what you do see is a person who is incredibly down to earth. On the field, he's energetic, and a leader of young men at Old Dominion. Off the field, Rahne is a family man who keeps things relatively simple when not acting as the Lion King and leading the new-look Monarchs.

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Athletics)
Ricky Rahne At ODU's First Practice

Simply put, Rahne may be one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

“I hang out with my family and hang out with my kids,” Rahne said of his off-field life. “We play video games together and we will go to the pool and hang out. I know everyone says it, but my wife is my best friend so whenever I can, I hang out with her. She’s pretty darn funny and sometimes she doesn't mean to be, but she is funny and makes me laugh.”

For Rahne, still young at 41 years old, he relaxes much as you would expect someone in his age range to. He may be in a higher profile job than the majority of his peers, but his choice of games is just what you would expect from someone in that stage of life.

“I play (NBA) 2K, although guys on this team would crush me,” Rahne said. “I play some Madden, I love Assasins Creed, (MLB) The Show. It's mainly sports games, but I will throw in some of that other stuff. I have Call of Duty but I havent been playing it,” Rahne explained. “ I know some other coaches play that a little bit more.”

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ODU Preview: It's Time For The Ricky Rahne Era To Begin

It’s finally time for the Rahne era to begin for Old Dominion.

The Monarchs are a little over a month from kickoff at Wake Forest, and are preparing for their first games under Ricky Rahne after a canceled 2020 season due to COVID-19. With all of that, there are a lot of unknowns and what amounts to two freshmen classes getting ready to make their mark on the Monarchs...so it’s only right to go through the roster and break it down.

In Madden, players are ranked via an overall number that is an average of their skills for this exercise, I will be assigning a letter grade to each position based on depth, talent coming back, previous production, and potential. I will be using the two-deep provided by OurLads.com since there has not been an official one yet.

Quarterbacks

D.J. Mack transferred home to ODU after a few seasons at Central Florida, which threw a wrench into the QB race between redshirt freshman Hayden Wolff and senior Stone Smartt. While the Athlon preview lists Wolff as the starter, I’ve been to practices and from what I see, it’s D.J. Mack’s job.

In two seasons at UCF, Mack threw for 838 yards and seven scores, with just two interceptions in limited action, most of which came in 2018 when he played in nine games. In practice, Mack has made some very good throws and use his legs well, with deceptive speed. Mack gives the offense the best chance out of the gate.

Hayden Wolff is listed as QB2, and that lines up with my thoughts as well. Wolff is a prototypical QB, and I haven’t seen the mobility of Mack or Smartt when I watch, but he is more accurate and makes decisions faster than Smartt. In three games as a true freshman, Wolff completed 58.1% of his 129 pass attempts for three picks and two scores as the offense sputtered in Bobby Wilder’s last days at the helm.

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It Wouldn't Be Impossible. But It Would Require Perfection

The recent proposed move to 12 teams in the College Football Playoff has provisions to ensure at least one “group of five” team makes it into the field each season.

So with that in mind, what would it take for Old Dominion to claim that spot?

In short, it would take perfection, but it is possible. Berths are proposed to go to the top six highest-ranked conference champions, assumably in most seasons, the SEC, BIG 12, BIG 10, PAC-12, and ACC champs otherwise known as the “Power Five” conferences. The sixth would go to a “Group of Five” conference champ, either Conference USA, Sun Belt, American, Mountain West, or Mid-American Conference.

The move to a 12-team playoff is not official yet, but it is the first step in the conversations. The intention appears to be a playoff with 12 teams sooner rather than later, with it happening in 2022 at the earliest. 

With ODU in Conference USA, the first thing the Monarchs would need to do to obtain an automatic bid, or for that matter, an “at-large” bid, is win their conference. That alone may not be enough, as an 8-5 C-USA champ would never make it in. There would almost certainly be another G5 conference with a stronger record, so it’s not that simple.

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