Fox Creek High School's football team has played a full varsity schedule for the past three years. But season No. 4 has a much different feel for the Predators.
"It's almost like we're finally starting Day 1," head coach Russ Schneider said. "It's like we've been on this hold for three years. Now we really feel like a real school."
Schneider's words came as he sat in an office specifically built to be an office. Before this year, the small school had made a temporary home out of a vacated video poker place. The transition to a new campus has brought a different feel to the school.
"Well, we've got more kids now, and that means more athletes," Schneider said. "The confidence is definitely there. We're finally starting to see it."
The move is just one more step in Schneider's attempt to build a winning football program. The Predators still don't have a gymnasium or a weight room on campus. They practice on a softball field at a nearby church.
"It's a sand pit with ants the size of dogs," Schneider said.
The team has only three wins in its short history. Two of those victories came last season. A third would have put them in the state playoffs.
"It came down to us and (Ridge Spring-Monetta) at the end of the year," Schneider said. "We needed a win, but our quarterback was knocked out in the first quarter, and we lost. I think that right there made the kids even hungrier."
A sophomore-heavy roster will highlight the start of the 2009 season for Fox Creek. All but one offensive lineman will be back to protect a brand new backfield that includes junior quarterback Aaron Walker.
Schneider said his team will move to a variation of the wing-T offense. Walker's arm will give the Predators an extra option on offense. Tailback Ryan Just will handle the duties on the ground. Senior Ty Keefe will help at defensive end.
Although the season hasn't started yet, the expectations have risen after a strong showing in preseason scrimmages.
"I've been with the team for four years now, and this year already seems fantastic," Keefe said. "We did great in our first scrimmage against Wagener-Salley. You can see there's way more confidence."
The Class A school has made a name for itself for being either fearless or foolish in scheduling opponents who dwarf the 25-35 players who make up its roster. This year is no different. The Predators will face Silver Bluff, Augusta Christian and Midland Valley in the first three weeks of the season.
The matchups mirror three consecutive David-and-Goliath battles, and Schneider said his team will take a simple approach to all three before beginning the Region 4-A schedule.
"We started out playing them so we could get known in our community. We're trying to get to that level," Schneider said. "Now we just say, 'Why can't we win?' That's what the kids are saying. You can't go out there and say, 'Let's just try to hang with these guys and keep our heads held high.' You say that and you know you're going to lose. We say, 'Why can't we win? Why not us?' "
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
FOX CREEK PREDATORS
COACH: Russell Schneider (Fifth season)
REGION: SCHSL 4-A
LAST YEAR: 2-8 (2-5). The Predators defeated region opponents Wagener-Salley and C.A. Johnson.
STARTERS BACK: 8 offense, 6 defense
THEY'RE GONE: QB/DE Trevor Richter, OL/DL Taylor Bishop, OL/DL Evan Tapley.
THEY'RE HERE: RB/WR Ryan Just (5-6, 155), TE/DL Ty Keefe
(6-1, 175), QB Aaron Walker (6-1, 185).
WHY THEY ARE EXCITED: Believe it or not, Predators nearly made the playoffs last season before falling 22-6 to Ridge Spring-Monetta in the finale. That's something to build on for the 4-year-old program.
WHY THEY ARE CAUTIOUS: Opening with Silver Bluff, Augusta Christian and Midland Valley is a tall order. Predators can't get discouraged facing those established programs.
-- Matt Middleton