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Across the athletic fields of the Hilton Head Christian Academy, the sounds of popping pads, the smack of helmets and the shouts of coaches rise into the warm spring air. '
The scene is an unfamiliar but welcomed sight at the Christian Academy, which recently planted the seeds for its first varsity football team --the last Hilton Head Island school to add the sport to its athletic program. '
"We've talked about it for a couple of years and we just didn't feel like we had enough boys to field a team," said Glen Rector, athletics director for the Christian Academy. '
Numbers certainly aren't a worry anymore -- with players or with finances. '
Forty-two players in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades came out for two weeks of spring practice and most are expected to return in August when practice gears up for the school's first junior varsity fall season. '
"We've had a tremendous amount of interest from parents and the kids," Rector said. '
The school's booster club also has pledged its support with $20,000 for the first season and a promise for $10,000 more the following year, according to Rector. '
The Christian Academy will play one year at the junior varsity level. A varsity team will be added in fall 2002 -- with the boys varsity soccer program switching from fall to the spring. '
Although participation is high, experience is scarce --only four boys have played football before. '
But the inexperience doesn't extend beyond the sidelines. '
The resumes of the coaching staff read like an honor roll of college and professional football. '
Former University of South Carolina head coach Jim Carlen is leading the effort. Carlen, whose son, Holt, is in seventh grade at the school and is playing on the team, has committed to the program for two years in order to anchor football at the school. '
"The first thing parents think of when they think of football is injuries," Carlen said. "But we didn't have any kids get injured this spring. My part in this program is to teach them how to play ... the correct way to play so they won't get hurt."'
And that's exactly why Rector wanted Carlen in charge of getting the program off the ground. '
"From the very beginning we said let's do it right and make sure the kids are equipped properly and safely and we instill the proper coaching techniques," Rector said. "Jim will make sure the fundamentals are taken care of and it's safe for the kids."'
Part of Carlen's plan in getting football up and running is the formation of a 16-man squad of high school players who will spend the year preparing for the following season, when they will be eligible to play on the new varsity team. '
Carlen's coaching corps is rich with a range of experience, from line coach Wayne Radloff, who played professionally for the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons, to Larry Beckish, a retired college assistant who last worked at Duke in 1998 and also coached under Lou Holtz at the University of Minnesota.'
The list of qualified coaches doesn't end there. '
Buzzy Lawson, who played two years behind center at The Citadel, will handle quarterback coaching duties for the Eagles. '
Assisting in the backfield and getting the players in shape for their first season is Marwin Kline, a former Battery Creek High School sprinter and three-time all-American runner at the University of Tennessee.'
"The best part of this program is that I have people who can handle the coaching for me," Carlen said. "They are really the ones who are running the show."'
Although Carlen is reluctant to take any credit, one thing is for certain -- all of the combined coaching and playing knowledge was quickly put to task during spring practice. '
After two weeks of training and evaluation, the coaches agree they have a batch of young men who want to learn the game but who don't understand its intricacies. '
So they will start from ground zero -- teaching the game's fundamentals and include everything from beefing up the team's football lingo to improving their strength and quickness.'
"We can judge their athleticism now, but it's difficult to know if they'll be a good football player or not," Radloff said. "We'll know better in the fall what the football ability level is on this team."'
Despite the inexperience, the coaches didn't go easy on their rookie team, pushing the Eagles to learn something new in each drill, whether that be how to correctly hit the sliding blocking dummy or how to break off the line to make a tackle. '
While Carlen is focused on teaching his new team how to play the game properly, he isn't concerned if his young squad wins or loses or how talented they are on the field. '
"If our kids will have a good attitude and give us the effort then there is no losing," he said.'
And with all the changes in the next couple of years, Carlen is elated that there will finally be a football team at the Christian Academy. '
"I'm excited for the fact that this school will give its kids a chance to play football and a chance to be a part of a great team."