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Knights ready to work after camp

POSTED: August 9, 2014 11:00 a.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

A group of Bethlehem football players wait for pictures in their new uniforms just after getting back from football camp.

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Bethlehem’s Knights have made great strides in a short amount of time, with the football program going from inception to competition in a relatively short amount of time. 

With this new season, the Knights make a big step up to another level of competition by joining GISA Class-AAA. Even as the team approaches new foes and new challenges, head varsity football coach Lance Fendley has made it a point of focus to keep his team from overhyping the threats they will face in their new schedule.

“We said that we can’t control the things that happen around us. All we can control is the things that we personally do. We talk about not allowing personal circumstances to dictate what we do, and complaining about AAA would be letting circumstances dictate us,” BCA football coach Lance Fendley stated.

The Knights got their first exposure to what AAA football, the highest level of play in GISA football, is all about when they twice visited Heritage-Newnan’s campus for some summer 7-on-7 passing leagues, and that made all the difference according to Fendley.

Now, these giants were brought down to size. These monsters were made human. These invincible juggernauts seemed beatable.

“It was probably the best thing that we did all summer because our kids were able to see that not only were we able to move the ball against them and stop the ball moving against us, but we were able to score touchdowns and force turnovers,” Fendley acknowledged. “That was the best thing we did to get over the AAA stigma.

“They got a ‘We can do this. We belong here,’ mentality, and that’s all I can ask from them,” Fendley added.

As motivating as that exposure was for Fendley and for his team, the Knights know they still have some issues to work out over the next few weeks before they can look forward to Aug. 22 and their kickoff against Windsor Academy at home.

One lingering problem that BCA has contended with over the last couple seasons has been getting up to game speed and staying there quickly. On a couple of occasions, the Knights would come out of the gate and get behind early, just to play catch-up over the final two or three quarters.

While it worked for them in some games, the slow starts failed to produce wins on other occasions. 

Now, though, Fendley and his staff have a plan for how to get the guys up and running from the first whistle and, as with most things, it starts in practice.

“One thing we started doing, and this is something that our defensive staff came up with, I can’t take credit for it, is that as soon as we finish stretching, we’re lining up and scrimmaging. It’s not a ton of time, maybe five plays,” Fendley explained. “It’s proved wonders for us thus far. They’re fired up. It’s competition time and it’s time to move the football.”

By starting the team earlier and getting them in that mindset more quickly, Fendley says, his team is more conditioned to getting engaged quickly and getting focused on the game from the very start.

“We want to make sure we come out of the gate hot and that’s one thing I’m going to be looking for in the scrimmage game,” Fendley reiterated.

The one seeming advantage that most AAA teams figured to have over Bethlehem, and one that sits largely outside of the team’s control, is sheer numbers and depth. The Knights frequently played teams in Class-A who fielded fewer players than them, but AAA is the largest division in the state. These teams ought to be bigger on the bench and deeper on the roster.

Even so, Fendley is confident that his team has made the leap and has grown accordingly over the offseason.

BCA now boasts a 28-man roster on the football team, giving them just enough players to field a full practice team for some intra-squad scrimmaging.

“We’ve finally got depth. We’re able to legitimately go ones and twos. In the GISA here recently, when you see a team with more than 25, you can honestly say that they may have 10 to 12 football players and the rest are just sideline material,” Fendley mused. “On our team, everybody plays. The way we run our team, we’re constantly rotating people in because we believe a fresh second-stringer is better than a tired first-string player.

“It’s nice knowing that we can change in and out all four quarters. Nobody sits the whole game for us.”

Of course, as nice as that luxury is, the Knights are ready for the real thing. BCA has gotten tired of their newfound size and is ready to flex some muscles against a real opponent.

“I think I speak for myself and the team when I say we’re ready to see somebody other than ourselves. We’ve been hitting on each other since July 28 now, and we’re ready to see a different color across from us,” Fendley said.

To that end, the Knights will face Thomas Jefferson Academy at John Hancock Academy Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m.

Both Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock are moving down to the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association for the foreseeable future of athletics, possibly due to widespread feuds and dissatisfaction with GISA leadership among many South Georgia schools. Even though Thomas Jefferson will be in a new league this season, they are still known as one of the toughest football teams in the state and will offer the Knights a great practice environment.

“One of the things I’m really hoping to see is how our kids compete,” Fendley explained. “I know that’s a generic answer…but really I want to see our kids battle in situational football. You can say it’s fourth-and-3, but when you can legitimately see the marker is in fourth-and-3, you can see how they’re going to respond.”

Under 15-year head coach Chuck Wimberly, the Jaguars of Thomas Jefferson have become a force in GISA football. The Jaguars played in four straight state championship games from 2006 to 2009 and have played in the semifinals in the last three consecutive seasons. 

The 2013 Thomas Jefferson team defeated BCA 67-26 to end the regular season before moving on to the playoffs.

“Thomas Jefferson’s always gotten a rap about being the bullies of the GISA for such a long time. Coach Wimberly and I have actually grown close and we’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s a good man and he runs a good football program,” Fendley said. “We love playing each other. I love playing him because no matter what level he is, they may not be in the GISA, but I promise you there are a lot of teams that are happy they’re not in the GISA because they’re tired of getting beat by them.

“The reality is that they’re still a very good football team.”

In addition to Fendley’s close relationship with Wimberly, the two schools are also looking forward to continuing their semi-traditional rivalry even with the parting of ways. 

“Thomas Jefferson’s always been a foe of ours, so I’m sure our kids will be pumped up,” Fendley added.

When the Knights face Wimberly’s Jaguars, they will be deeper and they will be quicker, but they will also be a tad bit flashier.

One of Fendley’s more aesthetic improvements over the offseason was getting his Knights a new set of threads to wear into battle. 

“After last year, I felt like we needed a new helmet and we needed a new uniform because it was the same stuff that had been there since I inherited it,” Fendley mentioned. “In that first year I was able to do things my way and put my stamp on the program, but I think your stamp really shows when you include some drastic change, and a uniform change, that seems to be the most popular thing these days.

“But really, we needed new uniforms and I thought a new helmet would be a good look. I didn’t realize Winder-Barrow was going to be doing a white helmet, too. That was completely by accident,” Fendley added. 

Fendley mentioned that the uniforms have been in storage since late spring and the team knew about them, but they got their first chance to really tear into them during this week’s picture day. 

With the new look, Fendley hopes, will come some new excitement.

“I think they’re excited about them. They look good and hopefully we can transfer the golf method that if you look like you know what you’re doing there you’ll play better,” Fendley joked.

With scrimmage coming up quickly and camp out of the way, Fendley believes that his team is in perhaps the most competitive shape they’ve been in for some time now and he is more than ready to test them out against a real opponent.

“I’m excited about it. We’ve looked about as good as I expected us to look,” Fendley noted. “We’ve had some kids who have shown up in the last couple of weeks in camp. We were at camp for eight days and we got 13 practices in those days.

“We took a real beating in the camps and we saw some kids emerge who have started to really impress us,” Fendley added.

In true coach nature, though, Fendley held off talking about the first game. In his mind and in his team's mind, the next focus is the meeting with Thomas Jefferson in Sparta. 

Even with ultimate hopes of capturing their first winning season in school history, the Knights plan to take it one game at a time.

 “I want to watch the film and really break it down," Fendley said of the Wednesday scrimmage. "Come Saturday Aug. 16, we’re going to start talking about Windsor.”



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