Bobby McDuffie / McDuffie Images, LLC
Old Dominion linebacker Jason Henderson, named a second-team FWAA All-American, makes one of his 18 tackles in a game against South Alabama last season. Courtesy of Bobby McDuffie
By DAVID HALL | | Staff writer
PUBLISHED July 26, 2023 at 3:22 p.m. | UPDATED: July 26, 2023 at 5:09 p.m.
When Old Dominion takes the field at Virginia Tech on Sept. 2, it will do so without having won a game in nearly 11 months.
The Monarchs lost their last six games in 2022 after a baffling 49-21 road upset of Sun Belt powerhouse Coastal Carolina on Oct. 15, part of an injury-riddled 3-9 season that was disappointing by most any measure.
So it’s no surprise that ODU was picked this week to finish last in the Sun Belt’s seven-team East Division in a preseason poll of conference coaches.
The good news for the Monarchs is that preseason polls amount to mere speculation.
“We recognize that it’s a results-oriented business,” fourth-year coach Ricky Rahne said Wednesday at the second of two Sun Belt Media Days in New Orleans. “And we know that we didn’t play the way we wanted to last year. We didn’t coach the way we wanted to last year. So we get another opportunity, and so we’re excited about that. That’s what makes this game so great: We get to go out there and actually show what’s on the field.”
What ODU will show is likely to be somewhat unrecognizable. The Monarchs have 58 new players, among them 41 on scholarship. Gone are quarterback Hayden Wolff and receiver Ali Jennings, both of whom transferred, as well as tight end Zack Kuntz, who was drafted by the New York Jets.
The roster turnover nearly renders any predictions for 2023 moot.
“Truthfully, a list is just a list at the end of the day,” said All-American linebacker Jason Henderson, who led the nation with 186 tackles as a sophomore last season. “I mean, last year, we saw that the preseason rankings were not anywhere close to what the end-of-the-season rankings were.”
Appalachian State and Louisiana were picked to win division titles last summer. Neither did. It’s why the preseason poll doesn’t carry much weight with Rahne.
“I think what it shows is that football is the most popular sport in our country and one of the best things we’ve got going because people want to find ways to talk about it,” Rahne said. “They’re going to make up things so that they can talk about football just one extra day, just one extra second. And that’s what all these prognostications are all about, is how great the game of football is. But ultimately, it’s about what happens on the field, what happens in between those white lines.”
An age-old question
Old Dominion quarterback Hayden Wolff throws the ball to a receiver during a game against Marshall in Norfolk on Nov. 5, 2022.
Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot
Old Dominion quarterback Hayden Wolff throws the ball during a game against Marshall in Norfolk on Nov. 5, 2022.
Wolff’s departure to Western Michigan leaves a glaring hole in ODU’s offense.
Wolff, a pass-first quarterback, put up 2,908 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.
Left to compete for the job are junior Grant Wilson, a transfer from Fordham, and redshirt freshman Jack Shields, a former walk-on who is now on scholarship.
Rahne, who typically keeps decisions regarding starters close to the vest, remained on brand.
“Our status is the way it has been,” Rahne said. “We have a competition going on between Grant Wilson and Jack Shields. One of those guys is going to grab it, and he’s going to make it so that we don’t make that decision, that they make the decision for us by grabbing that thing and taking it.”
Wilson, who played at Yorktown High in Arlington, completed 10 of 13 passes for two touchdowns in two seasons at Fordham. Shields, a Centreville native, has not appeared in a college game.
Wilson and Shields, Rahne noted, are close friends who help and root for one another.
“They just want each other to be successful because they know that’s going to make our team successful,” Rahne said. “So I’m excited, actually, about our quarterback room.”
Business as usual
Henderson, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound former high school wrestling star from Pennsylvania, was named the Sun Belt’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
On pace to break the FBS single-season tackles record in 2022, he suffered a leg injury at Appalachian State in the season’s penultimate game and finished seven tackles short.
Henderson’s all-business approach was on display when he was asked about his preseason honor.
“I’m very thankful for everything like that, but it’s just kind of something that I come to do every day,” he said. “I don’t really try and think about all that stuff too much because that’ll tend to kind of lead people to think about the wrong things.”
Henderson was the nation’s only FBS player to record multiple games with at least 20 tackles last season.

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