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Knights football prepares for Jaguars

POSTED: August 13, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Bethlehem's defense works on blocking before the spring game against Thomas Jefferson Academy.

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Bethlehem Christian Academy gets a little bit of an early start on their season this week with a Wednesday night scrimmage as part of the Hancock Kickoff Classic in Sparta where the Knights will face their former region foe Thomas Jefferson Academy.

Thomas Jefferson has been one of the best and most consistently excellent schools in GISA football ever since coach Chuck Wimberly took over at the start of 2000. In his first season, the Jaguars went 12-0 and captured the school’s third state title.

From 2005 to 2008, Thomas Jefferson only lost six games while winning 48. Two of those losses were in state championship games. They would lose the 2009 title game, as well, to cap off a 9-3 season.

"They’ve been around for a long time and they’ve been playing football for a long time, and it shows what it could be one day," BCA head varsity football coach Lance Fendley said.

"There’s a lot of things you could take away from Thomas Jefferson football, and we’re not looking to make BCA like them, but something our own," Fendley added.

As successful as the Jaguars have been in GISA football, they are no longer a member of the division and have jumped ship for the ever-expanding Georgia Independent Christian Athletics Association, also known as the GICAA.

The fall of 2014 will mark the GICAA’s second fall season, but it will mark the first one where they are larger than the GISA due to so many teams making the jump over.

"If you look at some schools…there school isn’t growing like other schools are. We’ve grown each and every year over the last six or seven years. We’ve always grown in numbers, and there are some schools in small towns with not a lot of economic output, so it’s harder for them to get students to participate in athletics," Fendley explained. "I’ve heard from some people’s mouths that they’re never going to be big enough to compete at the GISA level.

"There are some people that aren’t happy with some of the decisions that GISA has made over the years, Bethlehem Christian is definitely not one of those, we’ve always supported the GISA and will continue to do so, but some of these schools like the way the GISA was 20 years ago and…times they are a changing," Fendley added. "Some people are ready to get on board and make the changes, and some people aren’t unfortunately."

Rivalry breeds familiarity, of course, and the Knights have seen their share of action against the Jaguars before Wednesday evening.

In fact, the scrimmage game will be the fourth ever meeting for the two schools, with the first two regular season games going heavily in Thomas Jefferson’s favor. In 2012, the first time the two teams met, Wimberly’s squad won in a lopsided 71-26 decision. The 2013 game went similarly heavy towards TJA as the Jaguars walked away the victors of a 67-26 contest.

"I tell them all the time that if they can look at the past times we’ve played and not get fired up for a game like this and an opportunity like this to show what they’ve done…and rightfully so, because people if they look at this Thomas Jefferson match-up they know who owns that series," Fendley noted. "They’ve proven that over the past, but I think our kids are ready to put all that to rest and to show that they are as good of a football team if not for better in some facets of the game.

"In terms of getting them fired up, they’re ready to hit somebody other than ourselves," Fendley added.

Both of those meetings came late in the season, though, when Thomas Jefferson had built up their program and was making the push for yet another playoff bid. In both 2012 and 2013, the bout with Bethlehem was TJA’s final regular season game.

The Jaguars would also make semifinals appearances in both of those seasons before twice losing to Robert Toombs Academy, another mainstay of the GISA state playoffs.

Wednesday will mark the second straight game for Bethlehem against Thomas Jefferson, though, as the Knights also met the Jaguars in a spring game during mid-May. BCA would lose that game 45-7.

Seeing Thomas Jefferson for the second consecutive game is partially by design, however, for Fendley. To him, getting two looks at the same team, once before preseason practices and once after, provides a unique look at the team’s overall progress.

"It’s not strange. The year previous we did the exact same thing with Loganville Christian," Fendley acknowledged. "I have my own personal philosophy behind it. I think it’s a great measuring tool because you can go back and watch the tape and you can show them, ‘Here’s what we looked like in spring and here’s what we look like now.’

"It paid off huge for us last year and hopefully it’ll have the same result this year."

The Knights are looking forward to Wednesday’s scrimmage, though, because it marks a new era in Knights football. BCA made a bit of a move, themselves, jumping from GISA 1-A to GISA 1-AAA, the highest level in the state.

With the caliber of football the Knights plan on seeing this season, getting a shot at Thomas Jefferson in a road environment could be a great tune-up for what’s ahead.

"It’s a great opportunity to work some of the kinks out as far as how you travel and the mannerisms you expect out of your team as you travel and not playing in your hometown," Fendley said. "It’s great that we can do it in our preseason contest and I definitely think it’ll pay off in the end."

While playing up to AAA could be intimidating for his team, Fendley admits that the Knights seem to have a good understanding of their place in their new home.

One comfort that they should take is knowing that most GISA 1-AAA teams are almost as new to football as Bethlehem.

Each of the eight teams in BCA’s new region started playing varsity football in 2010 or later. This is a stark contrast to 1-A where most of the Knights’ opponents had been tossing the pig skin since the late- to mid-70s.

So, instead of being the new kid on the block, BCA fits right in with everybody else.

"There are some teams that are in the same boat as us and there are some teams that are more financially blessed that they’ve been able to establish their facilities in a much quicker amount of time. I’m happy for them, but you can tell those teams that have advanced better than a Nat Greene or John Hancock that’s been playing longer and took a while to get established," Fendley explained.

"It is comforting a little bit to know that people are still going through some of the same things as us, but if you look at that region, there’s still some great football there."

The Knights hope to keep their fast-paced offense going in the 2014, but they will be doing so without key playmaker Mitchell Kamm. Kamm rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season and accepted a scholarship offer to Valdosta State University where he is likely to see time as a receiver.

In Kamm’s absence, the Knights are relying on Graham Doolittle and Dylan Kofer to pound out most of the ground game and give BCA a presence on the scoreboard.

"I’ve seen a lot of good things out of both of those guys. They work hard, they do the little things right and they complement each other well," Fendley mentioned. "Graham’s more of a crash-and-bash downhill runner. If you’re in his way…if you’re in between him and where he’s got to be, you’re definitely going to feel it.

"Dylan is also an aggressive runner, but he’s got a little more wiggle to his run where he can put his foot on the ground and cut on a dime and get up field and make people miss," Fendley added, indicating that both runners will see ample time on the line. "It’s going to be real exciting to have a true rotation there."

Rising sophomore Chris Ratterree will also compete for snaps at running back.

"He’s definitely the speedster of the group. You put the ball in his hands and he can get down the field in a hurry," Fendley elaborated.

The Knights’ offense will also be looking for Dakota Parten to shore up his play at quarterback. Parten saw most of the snaps last season at quarterback, although Kamm did take a few turns after Parten went down to injury.

Beside Parten this season, though, is freshman Ethen Torbett, and according to Fendley, that starting position is still in question.

"We’ve had an interesting summer and both of them have competed so hard that I’m going to continue the competition until after tomorrow night. Once the staff and I have a chance to sit down and watch the scrimmage and evaluate how each one played, we will have a starting quarterback going into Week One," Fendley said.

"As it stands right now, they’re both competing for it and we’ll see what happens tomorrow night. Hopefully the right man will be known and will come out as the frontrunner," Fendley concluded.

No matter who the Knights go with, Wednesday’s scrimmage should serve as an opportunity for Fendley and his coaching staff to finalize any questions they still have about the roster and who will be hitting the field first for Bethlehem come next Friday’s season opener against Windsor Academy.



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