Odyssey Institute celebrated its best-ever football season at the conclusion of 2018, and the team wants to do it again.
The Minotaurs were the lone unbeaten 3A team six games into the season and finished off the year with a program-best 8-3 record after losing in the first round of playoffs.
The instant turnaround surprised many of the players, including senior lineman Jonathan Velazquez. However, now that the team knows what winning — and ultimately losing in the playoffs — feels like, he said the returning players are confident they can get back there, and even further, in 2019.
“Last year was exciting, and it gives us a lot of confidence,” Velazquez said. “But it also makes us want to show that it wasn’t just a one-time thing.”
Coach Jon Castellanos believes Odyssey is more talented than last year, with more numbers and a little bit of humble-yet-hungry swagger after a playoff season.
However, unlike many programs in Buckeye and the West Valley overall, the Minotaurs do not have a longstanding record of success.
Senior running back Chris Weaver believes another win streak and playoff berth — he said the goal is 10-0 in the regular season — would be a step in the right direction.
“We still don’t feel like we have that respect yet from some of the teams around us,” he said. “We have to earn it with more wins.”
The work to achieve those goals began in February offseason team workouts, and has continued in spring and summer practices. The Minotaurs have competed in several passing and lineman competitions. The 3A small school often holds its own against 4-, 5- and 6A schools in the summer, which Castellanos said helps the players get used to a more physical game. Odyssey can bring that physicality to its matchups against similar-size schools, then, in season play.
Like most coaches admit, Castellanos said it is hard to take too much from summer challenges, especially seven-on-seven passing leagues, other than the time spent as a group competing together.
But, the Minotaurs need as much of that offseason activity as possible, as they are incorporating a host of players who are new or had previously quit playing but were impressed enough by the program’s direction to turn back to football.
With more players comes deeper skill level at practices, more JV opportunities, and the ability to specialize at a single position.
Castellanos said around 75% of the team played “Ironman football,” or both offense and defense, and even special teams on occasion last season. Now, with most players hopefully honing on one side of the ball, he and the coaching staff can have more time to give instructions to players during games.
“Now we’ve got the tech so when one unit comes off, the guys can look and see exactly what happened, what they did right and wrong on the big screen we have, instead of having to regroup right away and run out to play again,” he said.
There is a fun and exciting energy at Odyssey practices. Nothing less would be expected after the best season in team history. But, that does not mean the players can take it easy. The Minotaurs have unfinished business.
“I tell them, ‘Last year was great, but you haven’t won anything yet in 2019,’” Castellanos said. “If they continue to take that to heart and practice hard it’s going to be a fun season.