Valdosta Daily Times

March 22, 2013

Georgia Christian to add football in fall

Christian Malone
The Valdosta Daily Times

DASHER — Football is coming back to Georgia Christian School.

This fall, Georgia Christian will field a football team for the first time in 46 years. The Generals will play a B team schedule their first year, then will likely move up to a varsity schedule in 2014.

"We're excited," said Georgia Christian athletic director Kent Copeland, who will be the head coach for the first year. "We have an eight-game schedule, starting Aug. 29."

Home games will be played on Georgia Christian's soccer field. Goalposts and a scoreboard will be installed within the next

five weeks.

Copeland, who also coaches the boys and girls basketball teams, will serve as the team's head coach the first year, but a new head coach could be brought in after that. Copeland was an assistant football coach for seven years at Gatewood Academy.

J.T. Brown, Georgia Christian's director of admissions, will be the defensive coordinator. Brown played football at Jacksonville State and in the Arena Football League. James Carter, who runs Southern Football Academy and played for Georgia Southern, will be the offensive coordinator. Shaun Eilders, who played for Valdosta from 1987-91 and also played for Georgia Southern, will work with the offensive line. Ryan Warren, a member of Georgia Christian's board, will handle the football operations and work with special teams.

"We have hired (four) assistant coaches that I feel good about," Copeland said.

"Props to James Carter. He's almost coming on as a consultant to help us start the program," Warren added.

Georgia Christian will be the fourth school in Lowndes County to offer high school football. Valdosta, Lowndes and Valwood have played the sport for many years. GCS believes there are enough football players in the county for all four schools to have successful programs.

"I was doing the math, I believe there are about 4,900 high school students in Lowndes County, in two (public) schools. That means (about) 2,500 boys, and there are 44 starting spots on those two (public school) teams for those 2,500 boys," Warren said. "Look at the success Valwood had this year as a private school. They've done that with Valdosta and north Lowndes County. We want to offer the kids in south Lowndes County the same opportunity, and Echols County (whose public school does not offer football). There's a need there that we can fill."

Copeland says the plan is to start simple and build from there.

"Our focus on this football program the first year, and maybe even the first couple of years, is fundamentals. Teaching the basics. You are going to make sure these kids understand how to tackle, block and the fundamentals of the game. Then we're going to build upon that. It may be a slow building program, but it will be one that's going to be around with longevity," he said. "We are going to come out of the box, as we always do at Georgia Christian, and are going to put on the field a first-class program. Now whether we win right out of the box, that remains to be seen. But the kids will understand the game. It will not be something that's going to be shabby or makeshift. They're going to understand (football and) know what they're doing. They're going to understand what to do."

Georgia Christian had a football team many years ago, but disbanded it in 1967. Why is the school starting football again?

"Two things," Copeland said. "First, we didn't have a boys fall sport. The GISA moved soccer to the spring. We looked at it, and said this would be a chance to add a fall sport. We had been talking about football for years, trying to (determine) is it right, is it wrong? Right now, we have a group of core athletes that are in the ninth and 10th grade. If we were going to do it, now is the time, so we can ride those athletes for three years while we're building (the program). I anticipate starting next year and adding a junior high program right in behind this. Another reason is we feel football will help our other sports. These kids will become bigger, faster and stronger. That can only help our soccer and our baseball programs, and our basketball program. We don't see football as a hindrance, we see it as an asset."

"We're always looking, as a board, to expand the scope of what we're able to offer our student body. Pretty much, this will complete the major sports that are offered at any of our public schools or any of our surrounding private schools," Warren said. "We'll now be offering everything that they're offering, in the major sports: football, basketball, baseball, soccer."

Warren also listed one other reason.

"This is Winnersville," he said. "Why else do you need an excuse to play football?"

Starting a football program is a major undertaking, and a lot of thought and research went in to this decision.

"Three or four years of back and forth (debate), trying to decide every reason not to do it, trying to find every reason why to do it, and the whys outweighed the nots," Copeland said. "Just on my end of the research, calling other schools that had been successful (starting a football program) and those that started and failed, and asking them those questions. Why did you do it, and why did you not make it? A couple of them had reasons why they didn't make it, and the main reason was the whole school was not committed to it. We're going to commit to it. We're going to come at it first class, full speed ahead, and we think we're going to get the community involved and the community's going to get behind us, and we feel like we're going to pick up kids because they want to be a part of something that they can hang their hat on and be able to participate in it for three or four years, and have a memorable high school career, of getting on the field and being able to play. … They're going to have fun playing something they like for three or four years."

"We feel the cost is outweighed by the benefit to our student body, and opportunities that we can provide to people who aren't yet a part of Georgia Christian, who we feel like we have a tremendous amount to offer them," Warren added.

"It is an opportunity for kids to play football that would not get to play football, (either) in our public schools or (at a) school that does not offer football. We feel like we have an opportunity to let kids play, and get to experience the game and play throughout their high school career," Copeland said.

Copeland, Warren and others believe that a football program will help grow the school. Georgia Christian would be one of only a handful of Christian schools playing football in South Georgia.

"We're selling Christian education, and everybody needs that," Warren said. "It's about building a complete body of work at Georgia Christian that's going to grow our enrollment and maximize our (school)."

The school has a long history of success in sports, particularly in basketball.

"We've historically been very successful athletically here," Warren said. "We didn't want to undertake anything that we couldn't do right. … No doubt it's going to start small and hopefully build from there."

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Georgia Christian School will be hosting a football kickoff luncheon on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the school's dining hall for anyone interested in playing football for the Generals, or for anyone interested in the school. The coaches will be introduced, and they will answer any questions that parents might have. Free hamburgers and hot dogs will be served.