Sam’s spring football stops: Olympia High

Observer Sports Editor Sam Albuquerque is taking you behind the scenes of your favorite high school football team during the 2024 spring session.

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Now that the first impressions of Week One of the high school spring football season have been made and are out of the way, Week Two is all about finding out who is real, who is going to help your team win games and who can handle the grind of spring ball. 

For the second edition of the spring series, Orange Observer Sports Editor Sam Albuquerque continues his rounds during the 2024 spring football session to bring you all the best notes, tidbits and thoughts he picks up from visiting West Orange’s and Southwest Orange’s teams. 

The team featured in this edition of Sam’s spring football stops is Olympia High.

More from Sam's spring football stops: The First Academy | Foundation Academy | Ocoee High | West Orange High | Windermere High

Olympia High

2023 record: 8-3

Spring game: 7 p.m. May 16 at Oviedo High

Coach: Travis Gabriel, seventh season

Key returners, additions: ATH Xavier Tucker, ATH Tavion Greaves, OL Parker Moss and OL/DL Xavier Wall

In each of Travis Gabriel’s six seasons in charge of Olympia football, the team has never regressed in number of wins. Going from 3-8 in season one to 5-5 the next two seasons, 6-5 in 2022 and 2023, the Titans finished with an 8-3 record and the district crown.

This sort of growth proves two things. Gabriel and his staff have shown to be legitimate program-builders, and the quickest way to a successful program is through giving quality coaches the time and resources needed to succeed.

Despite significant losses to graduation, 2024 should be another indication of Gabriel and his staff’s high-level quality as program builders.

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No. 1: Regroup, not rebuild

Of the 47 players on last season’s varsity roster, Olympia football lost 36 to graduation and will return just two of 22 starters: 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive lineman Parker Moss, who has multiple Division I offers, and two-way star athlete Xavier Tucker. 

“Those two (Moss and Tucker) are the face of the program this coming season,” Gabriel said. “They’ve never played anything but varsity since they got to Olympia, so they have the experience. They’re not the babies anymore, They’ve always been the younger ones, but now they’re the guys and I think they’re taking that role very seriously.”

But beyond their returning leaders, Gabriel sees an opportunity for the younger guys, too.

“We have a lot of other kids (who) have been a part of the program that a lot of people don’t know about, that have stepped up because they realized this is their time,” Gabriel said. “That’s what is bringing the excitement. We have a lot of guys who are like, ‘This is my time,’ and we’re going to honor that and allow these guys to go out there and compete.”

No. 2: QB is an open competition

With Juan Gainous — Olympia’s starting quarterback in 2023 — heading to play his college ball at Kentucky State University, there’s an obvious question at the starting QB position. Gabriel is excited about the competition for the spot.

“It’s still an open competition,” Gabriel said. “We have two young ones: Will Wankelman, who is a rising junior, and Dominick Sanguine, who is a rising sophomore. They’re younger, but they can both throw the ball; they can sling that ball a lot.”

While earning the starting quarterback spot comes with pressure to lead the team, Gabriel understands this position, like all of them, will be about putting his players in the best situation to succeed. 

“They’re grasping the offense and what we’re doing, but, of course, we’re going to change some stuff because Juan graduated,” he said. “We have two new quarterbacks, brand new quarterbacks, but they are learning. … We’re not going to put that much pressure on them. There is no, ‘You have to replace anybody,’ type of stuff. We just want them to be the best they can be. As coaches, it’s our job to just maximize what they can do and not worry about what we did in the prior year. I’m excited about our quarterbacks.”

No. 3: Legitimate athletes at key positions

Losing 36 of 47 seniors seems like an impossible circumstance to overcome, but Gabriel and his staff aren’t letting that affect their outlook on 2024. Quite the opposite, there’s a palpable excitement from the coaches and players about what this season is going to look like. 

“We have a lot of kids we’re excited about,” Gabriel said. “At receiver, we’re talented, same for the running backs in the backfield and really all over. We have a lot of talent that is untapped right now, but I think we’re tapping into it.”

There were plenty of athletes on display for Olympia during the practice I attended. Some of those players include Ocoee transfer WR Tavion Greaves, DT Xavier Wall, LB Aiden Harris and TE Carson Rutledge.

“We’re going to demand a lot from them, and we’re going to demand them to learn quickly,” Gabriel said. “When you have a brand new canvas, the excitement is that you’re allowed to paint whatever picture you want, because it’s brand new. Whereas in years past, the canvas was already painted. … But now that we have a brand-new canvas, I think that brings a lot of excitement, because we know this group has all the tools and all the resources for us to paint the picture however we want.”

Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.

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Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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