In its first year of varsity 8-man football last season, Grace Christian, understandably, took its share of lumps.
The Eagles went 1-9, losing their first eight games by an average of 42.5 points before faring far better in their final two games, a four-point loss to Halifax Academy followed by a season-ending, 60-50 victory over Hobgood Academy.
Grace Christian should enjoy far more enjoyable results on the field this season, however, bolstered by a talented junior class that comprises more than half the varsity roster.
“We’ve been in the weight room every day, and we expect to do a lot better this season,” said junior co-captain Mitchell Haughee, a linebacker and running back. “Building a program is difficult, but we have a good group of guys, and I’m really thankful for that.
“We’ve set our sights this year on a winning record, but honestly we just want to have the best season that we’re capable of.”
Who are some players to know?
In addition to Haughee, some other juniors of note include new starting quarterback Cameron Ballance.
He will take over for junior Jeremie Fitts, who is going to move to wide receiver where head coach Keith Boutwell hopes to better utilize his speed.
Junior Zach Usher is experienced at center, and junior Wes Meakem will anchor the tight end position, with Blake Myers at running back. Senior Colin Walker and sophomore Derrick Chen should also make impacts.
Which players will be missed?
Grace Christian lost only three players to graduation. The most notable of those was Ben McNair, a two-way starter who provided plenty of size.
How does Boutwell’s coaching approach this season compare to last year?
“I’ve screamed and yelled a lot more in the last two weeks than I have the last two years combined,” Boutwell said. “The expectations are there for them, they should know they are growing into men now. They know the offense, they know the defense.”
More on the Eagles
Last year: 1-9
Offense: Single-wing and spread
Defense: 4-4 and 3-4-1
Coaches: Keith Boutwell (head coach), Chad Church (assistant coach), Rolando McLeod (assistant coach), Bryce McClain (assistant coach).
Contributors: Cameron Ballance (Jr., DB/QB), Zach Usher (Jr., C/DL), Mitchell Haughee (Jr., LB/RB), Jeremie Fitts (Jr., DB/WR), Wes Meakem (Jr., DE/TE), Weston Davis (Sr., DB/RB), Colin Walker (Sr.,DE/G), Blake Myers (Jr., DB/RB), Derrick Chen (Soph., OL/LB).
The main number: 11 – The number of juniors on the Eagles’ 20-man roster, many are expected to have an impact on the team’s fortunes this season.
Aug. 19 at Wayne Christian
Aug. 26 at Hobgood Academy
Sept. 2 vs. Northeast Academy
Sept. 9 at Halifax Academy
Sept. 16 vs. St. David’s School
Sept. 23 BYE
Sept. 30 vs. Cary Christian
Oct. 7 at Southampton Academy
Oct. 14 at Arendell Parrott Academy
Oct. 21 vs. Rocky Mount Academy
Oct. 28 vs. Arendell Parrott Academy
All games start at 7 p.m.