Metrolina Christian football squad has auspicious debut season
by Aaron Garcia
Metrolina Christian Academy football coach Thomas Langley didn’t have time to reflect on the weight of his team’s inaugural kickoff on Aug. 26. Earlier in the year, Langley was chosen as his alma mater’s first head coach after serving as an assistant in South Carolina. From that point forward, Langley built the program from the ground up, beginning this year with junior varsity teams and middle-school teams.
Instead, Metrolina junior running back Alex Lewis fielded the opening kick, broke for the sideline, cut back across the field and raced for the program’s first touchdown, just seconds after its first game began.
“It was mayhem,” said Langley. “You couldn’t write it a better way (than) to return the opening kickoff in the school’s history. It couldn’t have started any better.”
So far, the rest of the season has gone as well as that first play, with Metrolina Christian jumping out to a 4-0 record in its first campaign. Langley said he hardly expected such a start since, by his estimate, nearly 90 percent of his new players had never played the sport before. But he knew the cupboard wouldn’t be totally bare.
“I knew coming in to Metrolina that there were some good skill kids here because they’ve got good basketball and baseball programs,” said Langley. “But we wondered how those kids would fit into the scheme of football. We’ve had several kids that really stepped in, and it’s unveiled for them. It just comes natural to them.”
So naturally, in fact, that Langley has been able to institute a complex, no-huddle Spread offense in the Warriors’ first season of play.
“I wasn’t just going to come in with three running schemes and four pass plays,” he said. “We spread it out and try to be complex and multiple in what we do.
“At first it was a little confusing because (so many) of them had never played, but after about two weeks of it, they picked it up a lot quicker than I expected. Running a no-huddle offense, it’s tough to figure out the pace and lining up and the signals, but they’ve done an excellent job with it.”
But it hasn’t been just a matter of mastering the playbook. Junior receiver Johnny Sprinkle, who transferred from Porter Ridge High, has been playing football since elementary school and he’s been surprised by the natural ability displayed by many of his new teammates.
“I go to class with them everyday, and if you just look at them, you don’t really expect that guy to be able to completely knock you out or to be as fast as lightning,” Sprinkle said. “They really have come alive, and it makes you wonder how good they could be if they’d been playing as long as I have.”
But it also helps to have a coach as emotionally invested as Langley, said the players. Langley, who graduated from Metrolina Christian in 2003, admitted to getting teary-eyed in pre-game speeches when telling the kids how he wishes he could’ve donned the Warriors’ maroon home jerseys.
“With football, you get more of a school spirit and a pride sense, not even just from the football team, but with the teachers and the students, than you get with any other sport,” Langley said. “It’s been special for me to come back home to Metrolina and instill that pride and that school spirit into these guys.”
And that, perhaps more than anything else, has helped the Lions make the jump from non-existent to undefeated in a few short months.
“It’s kind of cool that he graduated from Metrolina and he’s proud to see how we’ve grown and how we can lead our school as a football team,” said sophomore John Wilson. “It’s good having a coach like that.”
The Warriors finish their season with games at Charlotte Hickory Grove (Oct. 8), Davidson Day (Oct. 15) and Asheville Christ School (Oct. 21). Langley said that with the program’s hot start, the Warriors have expanded their goals from simply improving every game, as most first-year programs are forced to do.
“Now that we’re 4-0, we’re challenging (the players) to see if we can set the bar high and go 7-0 our first year,” the coach said. “That would be really cool.”
Luckily, the only convincing the players needed happened on the season’s first play.
“You could see we were better than people thought we’d be,” said Lewis, who dashed for the score. “I think we came out and surprised ourselves and surprised our fans.”