Family Christian Academy has always played in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s smallest classification. The Class C Flames have big dreams. Football dreams — to be exact.
“About 15 years ago we had a middle-school team,” FCA Principal Dave Smith said. “Through the years, we’ve had students who left our school because they wanted to play football.
“Michael Clayton went to school here and he went on to play in the NFL. It’s been something we’ve thought about for a while. When the Louisiana High School Athletic Association started talking about eight-man football, we thought it would be a good time to get started.”
If the LHSAA sanctions eight-man football, it won’t happen until 2015-16. A lot depends on whether 16 schools want to play eight-man football instead of the traditional 11-man style. The addition of several nonfootball Class B or C teams may be crucial.
FCA has already taken a huge leap of football faith by hiring Steve Douglas as its coach. In Smith’s office sits an architect’s rendering of a football field/soccer field complex to be built behind the school during the 2014-15 school year.
“We’re waiting to see what the LHSAA is going to do,” Douglas said. “The school thought the best thing was to be proactive and start a team this year.
“So far, we’ve got 17 guys out for the team. It’ll be more of a club sport this year. We want the players we do have to get some experience. Right now, there aren’t a lot of eight-man teams around. We’ve got seven games lined up.”
LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson is scheduled to hold a question-and-answer session about eight-man football on Wednesday at the Louisiana High School Coaches Association Clinic at the Crowne Plaza. The session should gauge interest and educate schools on facts about adding football.
The LHSAA posted an eight-man football report on its website earlier this month, which should fuel the Q&A. It includes the bylaw that would initiate eight-man football and some notable facts.
For example, the $10,000 bond 11-man football schools are required to take out when starting a program wouldn’t apply. Teams would play 10-minute quarters (as opposed to 12 minutes in the 11-man game) and a mercy rule would end any game when an opponent leads by 45 or more points.
Nonfootball schools like FCA will be allowed to play eight-man football as a subvarsity/club sport in 2014. The LHSAA report notes that it costs between $1,000 and $1,500 to outfit a player, not counting practice gear or shoes.
Smith said the school has $25,000 set aside to start work on its football/soccer complex. The Flames are now using the school’s softball field for summer drills along with the gymnasium and a weight room already on site.
Smith and Douglas said the ultimate goal is to grow a program from eight-man to 11-man football. But for now, the key is to start small. In order to offset costs, the school is purchasing helmets and shoulder pads, while the players will purchase their other gear, including jerseys and pants.
Facilities and games for the fall provide other challenges. Douglas is seeking sites for games this fall in the Baton Rouge area. The Flames twice will play Louisiana School for the Deaf, the area’s best-known eight-man school, along with a few teams from a Christian-school league.
All these moves, including the ones by the LHSAA, come a few years after Smith and FCA authored a proposal for six-man football which failed to garner much support. FCA sees adding football as a way to attract students to the school, including those who weren’t able to play football at larger schools.
The subject hits home for Smith, who grew up in the Midwest. Smith said he wasn’t able to play football at a large high school in one state but wound up starting as a senior at a smaller school when his family moved to another state.
The fact ex-students Clayton like (Christian Life, LSU) and Mewelde Moore (Belaire, Tulane) went off to other schools before going on to college and the NFL proves Smith’s point about students leaving to play football.
Enter Douglas, who started the Christian Home Educators Fellowship team about a decade ago. He started out as a high school coach, including a stint at Woodlawn, before accepting a private sector job.
“A couple of years ago, I talked with Mr. Smith about football,” Douglas said. “There was some interest at that time. I was moving toward the end of my career in pharmaceutical sales and was looking for other options. There were concerns, and eight-man football wasn’t on the horizon yet.”
Douglas was hired late in the spring and was immediately approached by several of the school’s baseball and basketball players. He said the school’s athletic pedigree, which includes multiple state titles in basketball and baseball, is a plus.
“If anything, we probably attacked him because we wanted to talk about football,” senior-to-be Sean Thiel said. “There were probably nine or 10 of us. We’ve definitely got a bigger turnout than we expected.”
Thiel played youth football in Mississippi, but hasn’t played since he was 12. Receiver-defensive back Jordan Thomas, who played freshman football at McKinley, is one of the few players with limited high school experience. Quincy Ellis, who is projected as the team’s quarterback, has played baseball and basketball at Family Christian but hasn’t played football since he was 10.
“I like the chance to do something nobody else has done,” Ellis said. “I like the idea of starting something.”
Michael Hopkins, an all-state baseball player, is set to play running back and linebacker.
“You know, it’s my senior year and I want to try and do as many things as I can,” Hopkins said. “When I found out we were planning to start football, I said ‘Why not?’ ”