The sign reading “Grace Christian Schools Soccer Field” across from campus on Buck Jones Road is in need of an update.
That’s because Grace Christian’s inaugural varsity 8-man football season on the same school athletic field opens on Aug. 21 against Wilson’s Community Christian.
“We started from square one two years ago,” said coach Keith Boutwell, who ran JV program the last two years to build up to the first varsity season. “I think we had one kid that had played youth football. But the kids want it. They’re determined and dedicated in the weight room.”
Boutwell has been devoted to the Grace Christian community since his daughter Megan, now a freshman on the varsity volleyball team, enrolled as a fourth-grader. He had been coaching middle school basketball teams when he approached the school administration about adding football.
“I think a football program brings the whole school together and everyone rallies around the school community,” said Boutwell, who was an assistant high school football coach in Massachusetts. “I think it’s a special experience. I tell the kids 10 years from now you’ll remember the experience of Friday night football games. Grace Christian is a special school.”
The athletic field began taking on a new look with goal posts. A scoreboard with “EAGLES” and “GUESTS” is now in place at midfield. Additional bleachers for football will be added to the ones that have been in place for soccer games. The light poles, though, are still in the ground waiting to be erected.
Depending on pending permit approval for the lights, the opener is set for 7:30 p.m. If the lights aren’t up in time, the Eagles are ready to play for a 5:30 kickoff.
One handicap for the Eagles has been that JV 8-man football at schools is limited to sixth-through-ninth graders. That means the two seniors and two of the three juniors on the varsity are experiencing contact football for the first time.
The Eagles play in the five-team NCISAA Colonial Carolina 2A. The other members are Cary Christian, St. David’s, Arendell Parrott Academy and Rocky Mount Academy.
Contributors: TB/LB Mitchell Haughee, QB/DB Jeremie Fitts, WR/LB Jackson Keen, TE/DE Ben McNair, C/LB Zach Usher, TB/DB Ryan Dempsey, TB/DB Blake Myers, OL/DL Derrick Chen, OL/DL Colin Walker.
Expected team strength: The team has good size despite the lack of juniors and seniors. They’ve also been dedicated to working out in the weight room.
Question mark: No varsity experience.
The main number: 34 – Number of players in the program, 18 on varsity.
The quote: Boutwell: “It’s baby steps this year, but we want to be competitive. Other teams with juniors and seniors will be tough to beat, but we’re looking forward to the season.”
Game to watch: The program and season opener Aug. 21 at home against Wilson’s Community Christian.