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WILSON — There’s good news and bad news as it relates to the plight of the Community Christian School eight-player football team in 2019.
The bad news? CCS, which had seven players show up for an abbreviated one-hour practice session Wednesday afternoon, enters the new year with 11 confirmed faces on its roster.
More are possible once school begins, but the first contest looms just over a week away on Aug. 16 against the combined outfit from Lasker Northeast Academy and Hobgood Academy that won the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II eight-man football championship in 2018. A CCS junior varsity unit is still up in the air and may not be activated until several weeks into the season, if at all.
However, there is good news to be gleaned. Most of the Cyclones’ direct competition for a playoff berth in the Division II eight-man ranks are in the same situation. Indeed, the toughest — or the luckiest — unit from a health standpoint could be the one playing for a championship on the final week of the season.
“I really like the kids that we do have,” sixth-year varsity head coach Andy Jackson said. “We’re just going to have to manage time as far as being able to give them breaks and try to keep them as fresh as we can. And, pray for no injuries.”
Wednesday’s session, as with all mid-week CCS football practices, was conducted in the afternoon to give the players an opportunity to attend church services. Otherwise, the Cyclones have been at work for 90-minute periods in the early evening hours.
Jackson told his group after practice Wednesday that they shouldn’t concern themselves with the amount of bodies on the roster. Rather, it was incumbent upon each individual player to be physically prepared for the eight-man lights of Friday night.
“They know it,” Jackson said. “We’ve talked about it during the summer when we only had six and seven kids coming to weightlifting that we were going to do it, and you had to be tough. It’s the only way to get through it with this amount of kids. You’ve just got to have some tough nuts.”
CCS, 2-6 last season, did not qualify for the four-team playoffs in Division II.
This year, four teams will still make the postseason with CCS, Kinston Bethel Christian, Halifax Academy, Northeast/Hobgood, Belhaven Pungo Christian and Wayne Christian in the league.
Lawrence Academy is not fielding a team this season, and Wayne Christian is ineligible for the Division II title due to having homeschool players on its roster.
Greenville Pope John Paul II, a first-year program aligned with the Big 8 Conference in Division I, will compete for the Division II title this year after being granted permission to do so by the NCISAA. Thus, six teams are left to vie for four Division II playoff spots.
As for the Cyclones, who reinstated the varsity program in 2014, they have yet to win a playoff game in their history and are 16-32 since coming back to the field.
“I think our goal is to make the playoffs and try to make a run in it,” Jackson said. “We haven’t won a playoff game here yet, so that’s what my goal is personally.”
The quarterback-center exchange will be handled by sophomores Landon Beaman and Graham Norville. Both have developed a rapport in the junior varsity ranks, and Beamon’s athleticism in the pocket gives CCS a chance to make plays on the edge.
Only a pair of players over 200 pounds populate the roster, including junior Jacob Harper. At 280 pounds, Harper will play tight end on offense and create a barrier in the middle of the Cyclones’ defensive line in the run game. He’s also a candidate for short-yardage carries.
Freshman Noah Pierce, the JV quarterback of the last two seasons, will backup Beaman and line up at wide receiver as well as cornerback.
Junior Trey Bryant, a newcomer to CCS, offers help at receiver and corner. Copeland Farmer, a sophomore, must be a mainstay at linebacker and provide help in the run game on offense from his wide receiver spot.
Senior Austin Bissette, junior Tyler Rogers and junior Johnathan Jones make up the offensive line with sophomore Brandon Tyner, up from the junior varsity, providing depth at the line and at tight end.
The other 200-pounder on the roster is Dylan Manning, a senior and four-year player in the program. Manning’s leadership will be counted on as a tight end and pass rusher off the edge. Without a bonafide kicker on the roster, the Cyclones will be left going for two-point conversions instead of PATs following touchdowns — which stand to be frequent in the wide-open space of the eight-man game.
CCS will host Raleigh Word of God on Sept. 20 in a non-conference test.
“I really think a lot of the ones that we have,” Jackson said of his group. “I just wish we had more of them. I don’t want a kid to get out there and really want it, but he’s so tired he can’t do anything. If you had more numbers, it would help out.”