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Jim Carlen swears he's done with football for now. '
But the former Hilton Head Christian Academy head coach keeps ending up on the football field, recruiting players, passing out uniforms and handling all the tasks of a head coach -- a position he no longer holds with the Eagles. '
Carlen is standing in during the two weeks of the Christian Academy's spring practice for new head coach Tommy Lewis, who was hired in early April, but could only make it down to Hilton Head Island over Memorial Day weekend. '
The 36-year-old is moving from Norfolk, Va., where he has been an assistant coach at Norfolk Academy for four years. '
"This is Tommy's program and when you leave a program you don't hang around. You don't want someone to be for or against you," Carlen said. "Tommy will do a fantastic job and I probably wouldn't have helped except he asked me to. He knew I was here and knew I knew the players."'
Carlen probably won't have too much trouble letting Lewis do his job because he'll be attending his son's football games in Tennessee. '
Holt Carlen, who played on the varsity squad last season and was the impetus for Carlen starting the program more than two years ago, is transferring to Baylor, a private school in Chattanooga, Tenn., one that Carlen himself also attended for a short time. '
Since being hired, Lewis has used Carlen as a bridge to the fledging program, while finding ways to make his presence and commitment known to the players and coaching staff. '
Lewis returned to the Christian Academy in late April to meet with the players. He also has spent hours on the phone forming long-distance relationships with kids he'll get to know quickly once hot summer practices begin in August. '
Through those conversations, Lewis is forming strong bonds with his future players. He's already talked to several about attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camp in June in Boiling Springs, N.C. '
For spring practice, the new coach sent down a playbook, one that closely resembles the offense the Christian Academy ran last year. The main difference is Lewis is installing a short-route passing game to replace the Eagles deep-throwing offense of last season that never really got off the ground. '
Otherwise, Lewis is walking into a program with a short history but one that boasts an impressive coaching staff. '
Without question, the incoming and outgoing coach formed a close and trusting relationship, strong enough for Lewis to go to Carlen first when he needed help with spring drills. When Lewis arrives at his first practice today, Carlen will introduce him again to the players and, most likely, hand him the list of any kids who are wavering about playing. '
"If I were him I'd be excited," Carlen said. "I think we have similar philosophies but I think he's more polished, and easygoing. But I think deep down where he lives he's hard-nosed ... still waters run deep."'
So while the Christian Academy awaits their new coach, Carlen is continuing his grassroots recruiting drive through spring drills to grow the program he created.'
Not surprisingly, 60 players have answered his impassioned call to return next season or give the sport a go for the first time. '
"What I keep trying to tell people is let them sink or swim," he said. "Yeah, I'm calling all these kids and, yeah, I do I chase them down. But all I'm asking is that they give it 10 days of spring practice to see what they think."'
The former University of South Carolina head coach has honed in on the rising seventh-graders, ensuring each potential player they are welcome, but if they don't like the game, it's OK. '
"I tell them, 'Son, you need football and football needs you,' " he said. "I just want them to come out and have fun. That's what is most important." '
To the younger players, and unquestionably the future of the Eagles program, Carlen is using spring drills to sell the idea that football is a fun, safe sport.'
So he is quick to encourage, support and reassure each youngster who steps onto the field.'
"We have to promote the program from the ground up," he said. "These youngsters will create the feeder system we need."'
And while Carlen has mentally turned the program over to Lewis, he reluctantly admits he's in his element on the football field and enjoys the time he spends with the players. '
"I love the kids for all you have to do," he said. "But I'm excited about Tommy will do and where this program is going. You're going to see some great things."