The Fredericksburg Christian School football program had just launched and days earlier the team completed its first preseason scrimmage.
Then-head coach Tim Coleman was concerned about the level of football acumen on the roster, so he asked the defensive linemen if any of them know the definition of the neutral zone.
None of them did.
Coleman then took a few steps back to the linebacker corps and repeated the question.
“My middle linebacker held up his hand said ‘I think I do,’” Coleman recalled. “He said, ‘Coach, I think if you drew an imaginary line two feet in front of me and made a circle around me, I think that’s the neutral zone.’ I said, ‘Not exactly.’ ”
Coleman proceeded to explain the definition of the neutral zone, hash marks, line of scrimmage and other terms one would expect varsity football players to know.
That was 10 years ago when FCS was just starting up. The Eagles have won two VISAA Division II state championships since then, and they’re no longer the lone private school football program in the Fredericksburg area.
Three years ago, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School, which is also located in Spotsylvania County, started its program from scratch.
The Eagles (0–2) and Warriors (2–0) will face off for the first time on Saturday at 1 p.m. on FCS’ home field. It’ll be the first time two private schools from the Fredericksburg area have matched up.
“That’s exciting,” St. Michael head coach Hugh Brown said. “We’re just excited to be a part of it. FCS is awesome. They’re two-time state champions so it’s an honor to step on that field and play them. We’re going to find out what we’re made of because they’re the real deal. We’re just excited and honored to play them.”
The Warriors and Eagles can relate to the same struggles. The primary issue when starting and maintaining a private school program is numbers.
FCS head coach Billy Thomas noted the Eagles’ upper school has just 115 total boys. Still, the Eagles have maintained their program since Coleman laid the foundation.
They captured the state title in 2014 (Coleman’s final year) and earned a second crown last fall under Thomas.
The Eagles have started a middle school program that is currently stocked with 34 players. Thomas said that should prevent some of the issues Coleman dealt with early on.
“We won’t be seeing freshmen come out playing football for the very first time,” Thomas said. “They’re going to get used to that grind as 6th, 7th and 8th graders. In the next few years I see FCS football continuing to grow.”
St. Michael is on a year-to-year basis.
Brown was giddy when the Eagles called in the spring to schedule his team. But he said the Warriors couldn’t circle the anticipated game on the schedule because they never know if they’re going to have enough players to field a team in a given year.
The Warriors currently have 17 players.
“Our focus is always ‘Let’s make sure we have enough kids to get to the first game,’” Brown said. “It was always the same eight or nine kids working out and that isn’t going to do it. We were blessed this spring and this summer to have a number of kids join the team. We had 18 at one point, and for us that’s like having 50.”
A couple of those newcomers are expected to be difference makers Saturday.
Senior quarterback Jalen Smith was an all-state performer for Stafford in 2017 after he helped lead the Indians to the Class 5 state semifinals. He spent last season at Life Christian Academy in Chester before joining the Warriors to complete his eligibility.
“He’s a humble, hard-working, mature man,” Brown said of Smith. “You’d think he was a 23-year-old but he’s only 18. He just gets stuff done, and academically he’s one of the brightest kids we’ve ever had in the school.”
Smith is joined in the backfield by Riverbend power running transfer Shymarr Wright. FCS is rebuilding after winning it all a year ago, but the Eagles have standouts in fullback Korey Hazel, quarterback Dylan Johnson and running back Noah Martin.
Coleman, who guided Spotsylvania High to three state titles in the 1990s, helped both programs install the wing–T offense to get off the ground. He said there’s a sense of pride seeing them battle for the first time and he plans to be in attendance.
Smith was a part of one of the area’s greatest rivalries at Stafford when his Indians annually looked forward to their matchup with North Stafford. He’s sensing a similar buzz around this contest.
“That’s exactly how it feels,” Smith said. “Everybody’s talking about this game.”