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Hope starts now for Horizon Christian football
Warriors open at Nathanael Greene Academy
HC Huddle 082214 web
Were just building right now, Horizon Christian Academy football coach Charles Wiggins, far right, said. - photo by File photo

Horizon Christian at Nathanael Greene Academy

When, where: Tonight, 7:30 p.m., in Siloam.

Records: Horizon is 0-0; Nathanael Greene is 0-0

Series history: First meeting.

Last meeting: None.

What to know: The Warriors are coming off a winless season in which they only scored four touchdowns in 10 games. But Horizon is buoyed by the return of virtually its entire roster that’s spent another offseason under head coach Charles Wiggins. Sophomore quarterback John Michael Booth returns to run the Warriors’ spread-option attack, led by senior running back Travis Pittman who rushed for 650 yards last season. Booth’s best target is 6-2, 210-pound senior tight end Michael Walker. On defense, Horizon has the luxury of size on its defensive line in seniors Justin Windsor and John Winkler and junior Chase Brown.

Meanwhile, Nathanael Greene Academy is coming off a 9-4 season under first-year head coach JB Webb in which it lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual GICAA state champions in Robert Toombs. The Patriots have big weapons returning on offense in senior running backs Eric Cano and Dillon Ellis and senior wide receivers John Branyan and KC Butler. Not to mention three returning offensive lineman in Eli Boswell, Logan Crawford and Jacob Ward.

History is the most comforting factor for Horizon Christian football coach Charles Wiggins as the Warriors get set to open their season at Nathanael Greene Academy tonight at 7:30 p.m.

As Horizon returns from a winless season in which it scored just four touchdowns, Wiggins recalls his previous tenure at Pinecrest Academy. He started the program in 2003, and the Paladins won just two games a year later in their first varsity season. The next year they won three. But by the third year Pinecrest turned the corner into becoming a formidable program averaging 8.5 wins over the next four seasons.

"I’ve built programs before," Wiggins said. "We’re just building right now."

Indeed, the Warriors are just two years removed from a season without football.

When Wiggins resigned at Pinecrest in 2012, he was quickly hired by Horizon in March. The timing wasn’t ideal. Few players came out for spring practice, even fewer came out in the fall and Horizon had to cancel its season.

With a full school year to recruit the hallways of Horizon, Wiggins got enough players to field a team last season, albeit with several who had never played the sport before. It was like starting all over.

But that means the Warriors also return the bulk of its roster this season. Sophomore quarterback John Michael Booth will lead the spread-option offense again that is led by senior running back Travis Pittman, who rushed for 650 yards last season. Booth’s best target is 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior tight end Michael Walker. On defense, Horizon has good size in defensive linemen Chase Brown, John Winkler and Justin Windsor.

All of which has Wiggins cautiously optimistic that the Warriors can take a significant step forward this season.

"I’m just looking for us to go out and improve from the standpoint of building the foundation of our football program," Wiggins said. "Now, it’s like building the next level. We’re going out trying to compete with everyone. Naturally, we’re going to try to win, but we’re just building the foundation, so we’re hoping to go out and be competitive."

Horizon will find out how far it’s come right from the start. Nathanael Greene is coming off a season in which it went 9-4 under first-year head coach JB Webb and lost in the first round of the GICAA state playoffs to eventual state champion Robert Toombs.

Regardless of the outcome, it will be the first step in what Wiggins hopes will be a long-term road to building a successful program.

"We expect to win a lot more games than we did last year, and I think the parents are optimistic about that," Wiggins said.