The only charter school in the Triangle that invests in football faces obstacles in fielding a program, but for the students and coaches, it’s worth it.
Some days before school began, as many as a half-dozen Kestrel Heights football players missed practice because of transportation issues. Kestrel Heights – like most charter schools – does not provide transportation. Students may not have someone who can pick them up after practice, and instead they have to miss it altogether.
And when the athletes do assemble under the tutelage of coach David Lloyd, they lack a proper football facility. Instead, the Hawks players share a campus field measuring 50 yards long and 35 wide with the boys’ soccer team.
“We have to get creative, but these are great kids,” Lloyd said. “If they know you care about them, they’ll do anything for you.”
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An example was the day before the Hawks’ 50-6 Aug. 28 win over Southwest Wake Homeschool Crusaders.
A half dozen players stayed after practice with Lloyd, but the purpose wasn’t extra film work to study their opponent. They helped paint the yard lines on the field the Hawks rent for games at nearby at Bethesda Elementary School. Lloyd and his assistants helped give the kids rides home.
“The majority of our kids are from single-(parent) households,” Lloyd said. “Practice can be hit or miss. It’s one of the difficulties of working with kids at a specialty charter school, but we work around it the best that we can.”
Lloyd made the comment Sept. 3 and anecdotal evidence could be overheard near the concession stand at halftime of the next day’s game. Three parents discussed how they can get their son to school before leaving for work.
But none of that matters on game night for a program that is in its seventh year while riding the optimism of earning its first N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A playoff berth last season. The Hawks finished with a 3-8 record, but that was progress from an 80-0 loss to Granville Central two years ago.
The school has 1,100 students in K-12 but only 325 in high school.
“We’re a much better team because we have 28 players instead of just 18 or 19 like we had last year,” Lloyd said. “Our guys played hard, but they ran out of gas. They’re taking the game more serious now that they have goals to reach.”
Kestrel Heights doesn’t possess the depth of a 3A or 4A school, but the Hawks do feature plenty of bodies standing 6-foot plus and well over 200 pounds. They lack numbers, not size.
Quarterback Devante Barker, a 6-foot-4, 190-pounder, doesn’t show up on football recruiting sites. But the flip side is he says he wouldn’t be thinking about college if he hadn’t enrolled at Kestrel Heights as a sophomore. He changed schools after a poor academic year at Northern Vance, a 3A school in Henderson.
Kestrel determines athletic eligibility each week, according to executive director Mark Tracy.
“Academically they help you to the full extent,” Barker said. “Anything you need help with, they’re there for you with tutoring. You won’t fail at Kestrel Heights. You have no reason to fail. Everyone around the school is trying to help you.”
Receiver Daquan Scott says he also arrived as a sophomore and improved his grades after a poor freshman year at Hillside, a 4A school.
“I have a chance to be better than what I am now,” Scott said. “My dream is to be the first one in my family to go to college. I never thought about going to college before I came here. My focus is on getting out of Durham.”
Although Kestrel Heights’ administration has experienced recent turnover, the football team’s foundation has taken shape. This is Lloyd’s fourth year teaching at the school and third as head coach.
The Aug. 28 victory demonstrated improvement in the program by turning the tables on SW Homeschool. The Crusaders defeated Kestrel Heights last season 21-6.
“We love the challenge of playing against them,” Homeschool coach Russ Zacek said. “They’re quick and athletic and playing against them makes us better.”
With a 3-0 start, the Hawks have bigger goals than returning to the playoffs.
“We’ve picked up expectations,” Lloyd said. “Last year it was just to make the playoffs. This year we want to go as far as we can go.”