ORLANDO — Logic dictates that the Olympia High School varsity football team will progress this season if it can replicate last week’s determined effort.
The Titans had the difficult task of playing state-ranked rival Dr. Phillips in their season and home opener on a rainy Friday night. Olympia made the Panthers work for every yard and point in the first half, though, and it was the way the Titans persevered in an eventual 43-10 setback that encouraged second-year head coach Tom Paolucci.
“I love our kids for many reasons, and I told them one of the main reasons is that they have never quit,” Paolucci said. “I have hope, because we’ve got a lot of bright spots on our team.”
Olympia hired Paolucci after Bob Head accepted the head coaching position at West Orange following the 2012 season, during which the Titans won five games and hosted a Class 8A regional quarterfinal. Olympia subsequently went 3-7 in 2013, as Paolucci and his assistants continue working to reestablish a program where nearly two dozen seniors returned to the roster this season.
Paolucci’s tenure also has been marked by a challenging regular-season schedules so far. Three teams on the Titans’ current nine-game ledger were listed earlier this month in the Associated Press Class 8A state poll (No. 2 Dr. Phillips, No. 8 Apopka and No. 10 Lake Mary) and a fourth (West Orange) received votes outside the 8A top 10.
Coaches typically strive for improvement from the first game of the regular season to the second in areas such as on-field communication and special teams play. The Titans not only will be looking to build upon some of the positive things they did in their opener, but the ultimate goal is to come away with a road victory this Friday, Sept. 12, against host Freedom.
Freedom started 0-2 after double-digit losses to Osceola and West Orange.
“Anytime you go against a team with different-colored jerseys, you want to win,” Paolucci said. “I know coach (Jeffrey) Higgins does a good job over at Freedom and so they’re going to be well coached and schematically they (the Patriots) run a lot of the same stuff that we do.”
PRAISE FOR A RIVAL
A steady rain fell last Friday as Olympia battled Dr. Phillips to a 23-3 score at halftime. The Titans lost the field-position game during the opening two quarters, but they reached the DP 21-yard line with the help of a long pass completion — and later a DP personal foul — and Phillip Shure kicked a 38-yard field goal to end the first half.
Dr. Phillips, which has scored points in 100 consecutive games dating to 2006, pulled away in the third quarter by scoring two touchdowns in 46 seconds. Olympia registered its first TD of the season when Duante Callaway caught a scoring pass from junior quarterback Khalyn Strickland with just under six minutes remaining.
“I’ve been in this area since 1998, and that’s definitely one of the best DP teams I’ve seen, but our defense played lights out in the first half,” Paolucci said. “Our defense plays well, and (senior defensive end) Stanley Gracia does very well for us.
“(DP head coach) Rodney (Wells) does a great job over there with his defense,” he said. “He’s been there for a long time, and he does a very good job with those kids. It’s just one of those things where we need to find out what we’re good at offensively, and we need to start working on the things that we’re good at.”