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Old friends and new foes meet tonight as Hilton Head Christian Academy head football coach Jim Carlen returns to Thomas Heyward Academy -- this time as the opposing coach. '
Carlen essentially ran the show for Thomas Heyward in 1993 -- although lacking the title of head coach -- installing the offense he used at the University of South Carolina. '
Though the Rebels have been through two head coaches since Carlen's one-year tenure as an advisor -- Smittie Cooler, who was officially the head coach in 1993 and took over the program on his own the next season, and current head man Harry Sprouse -- Carlen's basic offense still is in place.'
Sprouse, in his seventh season, continues to rely upon Carlen's option-based veer that requires a quick-thinking quarterback and a strong backfield.'
"When I took over in 1996, the offense had changed a little under Smittie Cooler who was the head coach for a couple of years," Sprouse said. "But we went back more to what Jim had been doing."'
Carlen has long influenced Sprouse. The two first met in 1977 when the South Carolina head coach gave a pep talk to Sprouse's Christ Church Episcopal School team before they won the Class 1-A public school state championship over Bluffton's H.E. McCracken High School. '
The offense Sprouse used that day was based upon Carlen's veer.'
"We were already doing some of his plays." Sprouse said. "It was kind of my offense ... I stole it from South Carolina."'
Although Sprouse probably would've added the veer to Thomas Heyward's repertoire, he credits Carlen for pointing the Rebels in the right direction at the right time. '
"We've had a lot of success with it," Sprouse said. "Jim is a great football coach. He brought a lot to Thomas Heyward along with a great deal of football knowledge."'
Still, knowing what the opposition is running doesn't mean Carlen's young, spirited Eagles (0-5) can stop it. '
"Thomas Heyward has done a real good job with that offense," Carlen said. "But we just can't teach our kids fast enough. We knew what Colleton Prep was going to run (in last week's 54-12 loss), but we couldn't slow them down."'
When Carlen took over that Rebel squad nine years ago, it was his first experience coaching high school players since a one-year stint as an assistant at his high school alma mater, Cookeville Central High in Tennessee. That was in 1955.'
That Rebel squad was loaded with talent and experience -- a much different situation than he faced when he returned to coaching last year with the Christian Academy, which fielded a junior varsity squad in 2001, its first-ever football team.'
"We had good linemen, a good quarterback and two big fullbacks (at Thomas Heyward)," Carlen said. "We had a bunch of guys who knew how to play. So working with that team didn't help me much here. We had to start from scratch and build. This is completely different."'
Even if Carlen didn't gain much practical knowledge at Thomas Heyward that he could apply at the Christian Academy, he left behind a solid foundation for Sprouse. '
Sprouse stayed with the veer mainly because it makes the defense react and take a quick guess as to what they think is coming. '
"It appeals to our running game, and it puts pressure on the defense to cover the entire field," Sprouse said. "Basically you try to build a wall and isolate one or two players and force them to make a decision you can take advantage of. If the wall works, the quarterback gets the ball to right person ... hopefully." '
The play works well for the Rebels with powerful running back Jason Stuckey and quarterback-turned-tailback Calvin Sayger, who have provided the bulk of the Rebels offensive production. '
"We've built it around the two of them," Sprouse said. '
The Eagles will need to keep a close eye on Sayger, Stuckey and up-and-coming sophomore quarterback Leon Ethridge, who employ a combination of speed and power to outsmart and overpower opposing defenses. Besides the veer, the Rebels are adept with the wing-T and unbalanced slot. '
"Although they run about the same thing, they've added different formations," Carlen said. "We do OK on defense and we'll walk through the plays but it has to become second nature."'
But Sprouse is by no means confident in his squad walking away with an easy win against a much-improved Christian Academy squad. '
"I'm concerned because they're improving every week," he said. "They're going to breakout and have a big game, and I hope it's not against us." '
The Rebels (2-3) lost a tough contest to St. Andrew's last week, 13-7, after committing five turnovers, including two inside the Saints' 10-yard line.'
"Holding onto the ball has to be a priority for everyone," Sprouse said. "We can't fumble the football plus we have some kids injured and banged up."