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Paglia: Despite hiatus, Horizon Christian still has football fever

POSTED: July 11, 2013 3:22 p.m.
Photo by Brian Paglia Forsyth County News/

Horizon Christian football coach Charles Wiggins encourages a player to work through an exercise at practice on Wednesday. The Warriors hope to return to play this season after not fielding a team in 2012.

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If there was any doubt about football’s seat at the throne of American sports, then take a look at its grassroots.

There you’ll find Horizon Christian Academy’s football team during a summer morning practice at Bennett Park – nine players, three coaches and one football. It’s barely enough to have a basketball team.

For the Warriors, it’s a welcome return after a year away. Horizon Christian called last season off after only five players returned to practice when school started. It would have been the Warriors’ fourth season in the Independent Christian Schools of Georgia-Alabama league.

Instead, Horizon Christian head coach Charles Wiggins, also the school’s athletic director, tended to some red tape in the athletic department and went to school to finish his certification for business education. Knowing his sophomore season was a wash, Warriors tight end and linebacker Michael Walker retreated to the barn-turned-training facility on his family’s property to prepare for next season – if there would be one at all.

But, here, the power of America’s most popular sport – the one that first leap-frogged baseball for No. 1 in a poll done by Harris Interactive in 1985 and has pulled away ever since; the one with the most-watched single-day sporting event in the world (the Super Bowl); the one that has colleges and universities scrambling to create programs and toss them up the NCAA division ladder to grab the sport’s rich conference affiliations and television contracts (see Georgia State, Mercer) – this is where football’s lure is too strong even to let a small, private Christian school with barely 125 high school students go without.

"It’s like no other team sport," Wiggins said. "Football brings people to the school, it brings relationships with the community.

"Friday night football in Georgia, what can I say – football in Georgia is big-time,"

It’s big enough for Wiggins and the Warriors to try to overcome every hurdle in front of their return to competition this season.

The resources: Horizon Christian has virtually none. No weight room; that’s Walker barn. No home field; the Warriors lease out Bennett Park, where the scoreboard reads, ‘Home of the Warriors.’ Wiggins had to dip into his wealth of contacts in the community from his time at Pinecrest Academy to come up with enough money to buy brand new Revolution helmets at about $250 a piece.

The skill level: Walker is just one of four players from Horizon Christian’s last team in 2011.

About the potential roster that’s been working at practices, strength and conditioning and passing skeletons all summer: "They thought X’s and O’s were kisses," Horizon Academy defensive coordinator Tom Santoro said.

The lack of numbers: Wiggins was ecstatic that over 20 players signed up this past spring and went through spring practice and a scrimmage.

"It’s difficult," Wiggins said. "When you don’t have the numbers, you have to be a coach who develops relationships. Over at South Forsyth or West Forsyth, they have hundreds of kids. One doesn’t show up, they have another one. Here, you have to be confident that everybody will be here and the ones who can be here are here. … It can be tough."

But to have the ritual of football to follow for 11 weeks (more if you’re lucky), it’s worth it for Horizon Christian.

Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at bpaglia@forsythnews.com or 770-205-8982. On Twitter? Follow him at @BrianPaglia.

 

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