Friday night will mark another first for the Augusta Eagles football team.
In its first season as an 11-man team, the Eagles home-school team will play its first home game at Lions Memorial Field in North Augusta, playing host to the Anderson (S.C.) Cavaliers.
Coming off three years of playing eight-man football, the Eagles are taking some lumps in its initial season competing in the Glory For Christ Football league, starting out 0-3.
Comprised of players from the county and across the CSRA, for now the Eagles are seemingly at a disadvantage. They have just 16 players on the roster, many of whom have never played football before this season, and practice at Grovetown’s Liberty Park on an unlined field. Make no mistake, however, they are going at this full speed.
Bringing a wealth of experience to the field is Sam Lilly, a Butler High School standout who went on to star at Georgia Tech before playing five seasons in the National Football League. The Eagles run current offenses such as the pistol and the Oregon spread while using a version of the Chicago Bears’ 46 defense.
“We tell them they’re part of a tradition now,” Lilly said. “They’re starting the first 11-man team, they have an opportunity to bring the community together and it’s a good thing, so I’m proud of them, of what they’re doing. They’re learning quickly, and we have a bunch of ninth-graders and I think three seniors and everybody else will be coming back, so I really believe we’re going to do well.”
Robert Dingerson is a 6-foot, 190-pound senior quarterback who also plays where needed on defense. He played at Grovetown during his his ninth- and 10th-grade years and doesn’t care that the team has markedly less players than the teams they face.
“I believe we can take it all the way if these guys play to their potential and go at it 100 percent every practice, every game, including me,” Dingerson said. “We can win every game, that’s what I believe. Not to be conceited, that’s just facts. It’s 11 men on 11 men.”
Parker Wiley, a 14-year-old freshman from Evans is one of those playing football for the first time.
“It was challenging at first but it’s getting better,” said Wiley. “I think all the team is coming together really well...In practice it gets tough, but on Friday nights you just get this kind of adrenaline rush and it feels totally different. You’re sore the next morning, but you don’t feel it during the game, you’re just pumped up and ready to go.”
While the majority of the players are homeschooled, players who attend magnet schools or private schools without a football team can compete for the Eagles.
Program manager Tim Alba is hoping they can get away from being thought of as a homeschool team.
“We’re trying to get away from the whole homeschool moniker, because that’s what everybody keeps calling us, that’s what we were predominantly,” said Alba, who would like to see the program build into one that has a varsity, JV and a middle-school team. “We’re starting to see response from some of the other educational situations.”
No matter what happens this year, Lilly likes the mental makeup of his squad.
“This group of kids we have here probably has the best attitudes I’ve been around,” Lilly said.