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After losing 14 players off last season’s roster, the Community Christian School eight-player football team isn’t about to go charging headlong into an early season schedule dotted with games against significantly bigger enrollments.
“We’ve gone to all 1-A teams, which should help us,” fifth-year CCS head coach Andy Jackson said of his schedule. “We’ve spent the last few seasons getting beat up right to start with physically, and then it kind of hurts your feelings when you get beat. So hopefully, we’ll get a good start.”
The Cyclones, who open their 2018 season Friday at Lawrence Academy, present with 14 available bodies on the varsity roster. However, one of them is kicker Salvador Guzman, who will contribute to the Cyclones on certain Friday nights. Jackson expects to have Guzman’s leg available for Friday’s opener. But on other nights, Guzman will continue a soccer schedule with Wilson-area homeschool team, DASH United.
“We couldn’t have played the 2-A schools we do with the amount of kids we have this year,” Jackson said. “Really, we’ve got 14 on the roster, but one of those is Salvador. So we’re really doing it with 13.”
Helping the limited depth behind the varsity group will be a 10-player junior varsity program. Returning experience for the Cyclones is scant at best, with only 215-pound senior running back Gavin Wiley returning.
CCS was hurt and helped by the transfer route, losing senior quarterback Chandler Conway to Southern Nash. Senior Jordan Allen is playing his final season at Hunt. But Jackson, who is 14-26 with the Cyclones after a stint at Rocky Mount Academy, received an unexpected “blessing” in the summer months when he learned of senior Tyrik Fate’s availability from Fike.
Fate is listed as an athlete on the Cyclones’ roster, and Jackson intends to give the former middle school lineman every opportunity to touch the football as such. His CCS experience will be the first time he’s ran the football, and a steady power dose of Wiley and senior Jordan Tyner (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) is expected to allow Fate to haul in big plays downfield versus stacked boxes.
“Tyrik is an excellent athlete,” Jackson said. “I don’t know that he’s not the fastest kid I’ve had since I’ve been here. He’s pretty daggone fast, and he’s caught on to everything we’ve done.”
Freshman Landon Beamon, the junior varsity starter in the backfield will be a shiftier alternative to the power game when called into varsity duty.
At quarterback, senior Reece Bartlett steps in as the CCS starter after not playing since his freshman season.
“He’s come out and worked all summer,” Jackson said of Bartlett. “He’s worked really hard, and I like a hard worker. He’s excited about playing the position. I think he’s going to do a great job. He’s got a good arm and good legs, and can run the football well for us.”
Along the three-man line, senior Josh Hollandsworth is back a center following a knee injury. Youth will fill the guard positions, with freshman Graham Norville and sophomore Tyler Rogers. Hollandsworth is easily the biggest of the trio, but Jackson expects the group to open up holes for the north-south running of Wiley and Tyner.
Defensively, CCS will be a base 4-2 alignment. Hollandsworth is set to be the anchor of both lines, logging as many snaps as possible at one defensive tackle spot. A speed element comes into play with the other tackle, sophomore Jacob Harper.
Harper, with extensive Cyclones JV experience, was hailed as a “beast” by Jackson.
Tyner and junior Dylan Manning are set to fill the end positions.
At linebacker, Wiley and Fate supply a blend of power and speed. The CCS cornerbacks, frequently on an island, will be new. A freshman will patrol one of the spots with either Beamon or Graham Norville. Senior Barry Radford is at the other corner post.
“They can run, but whether they can defend anybody, I don’t know yet,” Jackson said of his secondary.
While the 1-A and 2-A labels are still freely thrown around, no such designation exists anymore in North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association eight-player football parlance. The Colonial Carolina Conference, of which CCS is a member, is considered Division II. CCS will compete with Kinston Bethel Christian, Halifax Academy, Lawrence, Belhaven Pungo Academy and the combined team of Hobgood Academy/Lasker Northeast Academy, which won the final 1-A championship last year.
Parrott Academy, Cary Christian, Rocky Mount Faith Christian, Raleigh Grace Christian, Rocky Mount Academy, Raleigh St. David’s School and Southampton (Virginia) Academy play in the Big 8 Conference and compete for the Division I title.
However, on the CCS side, the top four Division II finishers will still make the playoffs. The Cyclones face Lawrence, Pungo and Bethel twice, with the latter meeting serving as the conference encounter. Halifax is seen as the most formidable foe on the slate.
Yet even with a smaller roster, Jackson expects no less than the Cyclones’ fourth straight playoff appearance since the program’s revival in 2013.
“I’m going to be disappointed if we don’t make it there,” he said. “I really am.”