Photo courtesy of Old Dominion athletics
After the 38-22 loss to Charlotte on Nov. 30, 2019, Old Dominion football found itself at a crossroads.
The only coach they had ever known, Bobby Wilder, had led the Monarchs to new highs, but it was clear a change needed to be made.
After winning the Bahamas Bowl, the first bowl in school history in 2016, Wilder went 10-26 over his next 36 games. Even though that record did include a massive September 2018 upset of then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, something needed to be done.
In With the New
On Dec. 2, 2019, Wilder resigned from ODU. Just a week later, on Dec. 9, the Monarchs hired Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne.
Rahne, however, would have to wait to have a spring practice as the COVID-19 pandemic forced ODU to cancel its football season in 2020. The Monarchs’ season was over before they could even have a practice. The road between those two dates was wild and included massive success for ODU in recruiting and in landing a handful of key transfers.
On that road, Rahne built the two best recruiting classes in ODU history. In only two months, the newly-named head coach recruited and signed three-star athlete LaMareon James and three-star linebacker Malcolm Britt, both out of Chesapeake.
Three-star defensive tackle Chazz Wallace, out of Maryland, also picked ODU along with a host of other highly-ranked players. The class combined to finish 12th in Conference USA.
Excitement abounded around the program but that excitement would be tempered in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced ODU to stop practicing and later would cancel its 2020 season. That meant Rahne and ODU would have to wait to put the memories of 2019 behind them.
Recruiting Momentum Continues
The summer of 2020 would also see Rahne and his staff land a plethora of extremely impactful recruits. That included bringing Jordan Bly, son of North Carolina great Dre Bly, back to the area that made his dad famous as a highly-touted recruit.
The class would finish sixth in the conference. It included the flip of three-star cornerback Jalen McCain from Boston College.
Also in the fold for the Monarchs were three-star tackle Christopher Adams from Maryland, three-star wide receiver Tariq Sims from Loudon County, Va. and highly-regarded guard Stephon Dubose from Indian River High School in Chesapeake — the same school as LaMareon James and a host of others.
Back to the Field…Finally
The team finally returned to the field for spring practice on March 2, 2021.
“Even though we just got helmets on today, they were excited,” Rahne said on the first day of practice. “It has been a long journey and there’s been a lot of twists and turns and we have a long way to go. I’ve just been thankful for the way these guys have responded to me and the way they have taken me in and taken our whole coaching staff in. We have a lot of work to do, but I like where we are at right now.”
Some players decided to transfer. That left ODU with just a handful of experienced leaders on the team. At linebacker, Jordan Young has played 36 games over his three seasons and is the only senior at his position.
“Honestly, I was just ready to get back to work,” Young, a sixth-year senior, said. “That feeling of being 1-11, of losing 11 straight games, it sticks with you. When I heard we got Coach Rahne, I had known him from past experiences during recruiting. I was just ready to get in and start building.”
Isaac Weaver is the senior anchor on the offensive line. Weaver has only missed one game in three years and has started 26 games at left tackle and nine at center for the Monarchs.
“No one knew exactly what was going to happen,” Weaver said. “It’s been an insane time; we are going to be able to help provide that sense of normalcy for everybody. It really feels great. I guess you never like to be the last one to the party but better late than never.”