It has been a tumultuous offseason for the homeschool Augusta Eagles football team.
Heading into their second season of 11-man football in the Glory For Christ League, the team and coach Sam Lilly parted ways early on June 30, putting the upcoming season in jeopardy.
“We were kind of without a coach and we weren’t going to be able to have a season,” said board member Amy Bailey.
Bailey got on the phone and by noon had found a new coach in Chris Smith.
“I was definitely not expecting this opportunity,” Smith said. “I realized the season was in major jeopardy of not happening. I had been working with the quarterbacks and felt an obligation. I didn’t want the boys to lose the opportunity to play football. They would be heartbroken.”
Smith, who will start outprocessing from the Army this week, has been coaching football for about 14 years, starting when his son played recreation league football in Virginia. He volunteered with the Heidelberg (Department of Defense Dependents School) middle and high school squads from 2004 to 2010 in Germany before coming to the area.
“I’ve been coaching with the Columbia County rec department pretty much since I hit the ground,” Smith said. “Last year I was coaching with Columbia Middle School. I was a lay coach over there.”
Lilly started the 2013 year with 16 players and Smith faces much the same challenge. He is determined to plow ahead.
“We will officially start 21 July,” said Smith. “We’ll do our camp. As of right now we only have 11 confirmed, and one of the big concerns was we really have to push to get these kids and at the minimum we have to have 25 boys. From what I understand there’s been a whole lot of interest.”
In order to be ready for the season, the Eagles cancelled their first two games of the season and will start with a home game at Lions Memorial Field in North Augusta against Grace Christian.
The Augusta Preparatory Day School Cavaliers are scheduled to play the Eagles on Friday, Oct. 10 for their homecoming. When he heard that the Eagles’ season was in peril, head coach Harry Bacheller started looking for alternatives. For now, he’s counting on the Eagles being there.
“We’re going to wait it out,” said Bacheller, adding that he is putting together a backup plan. “They have plans and they have players out here. I’m going to do everything I can do to help them.”
Lilly, who runs Sports Academy South, Inc., wishes the program well.
“I wish them all the luck,” said Lilly. “I wish whoever coaches the team all the luck. I have nothing but love for homeschool.”