Sherwood Christian Academy rising junior Jaron Thomas lifts weights with his teammates during an offseason workout on Monday. The Eagles are playing in the GICAA for the first time this fall. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — The Sherwood Christian Academy football team graduated just one player from last season’s squad, Otis Covington is entering his fourth year as head coach and numbers are up this offseason for the Eagles.
Despite the stability within the program, everything is about to change for SCA.
After spending more than a decade in the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA), Sherwood is now a member of the newly formed Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association (GICAA), and Covington’s football team will be among the first at the school — joining other fall sports volleyball, softball and cross country — to compete in the new league.
The Eagles are less than two months from their season opener Aug. 22 against Abbeville Christian Academy from Dothan, Ala., and Covington and his players are excited for the new direction.
“From a relationship standpoint and from a rivalry standpoint, it’s slightly sad (to be leaving the GISA) because you are used to certain styles and playing certain teams,” Covington said. “But on the other hand, you have all the excitement with the new possibilities ahead of you. The excitement of building something new outweighs that nostalgic side you might have.”
Sherwood made the decision in November to join the GICAA, a league that is made up of nearly 100 member schools that are more comparable in size to SCA’s 9th-12th grade enrollment of around 140. It’s a league on the rise that is quickly growing in size — and it’s a league that Covington feels is a perfect fit for his football team, which had a roster of about 20 kids last season.
“Now we are going in and facing a team that has 25-30 players as opposed to a team with more than 45 players,” Covington said. “From that standpoint, we will be very much more competitive. It kind of levels the playing field in terms of fatigue, especially in the second half.”
The Eagles, who are 6-26 over the past three years, finished 2-9 last season and were outscored by an average of 20 points per game. Traditional Southwest Georgia GISA opponents like Deerfield-Windsor School, Southland Academy, Terrell Academy and Southwest Georgia Academy are no longer on Sherwood’s roster.
Instead, the Eagles, who are now in the GICAA’s Division 1-AA, will play an entirely new schedule. The only familiar face will be Calvary Christian from Columbus, which Sherwood played in preseason scrimmages the last two years.
“The size of teams we will play now, when we are getting tired they are going to be getting tired. Unlike when we played Deerfield or Southland and they had 40 or 50 players and we had 25 or 30,” rising senior receiver Ben Williams said. “I remember some games I would fall over with cramps, and I would look over at my friends on Deerfield or Southland and they are sitting over their chilling because they can rotate guys in every five plays.”
Along with Calvary Christian, other Division 1-AA teams include Central Fellowship Christian Academy (Macon), Community Christian School (Stockbridge), Covenant Academy (Macon) and Creekside Christian Academy (McDonough). Because several GISA schools dropped Sherwood from their schedules, the Eagles scrambled to fill a 10-game schedule with matchups against teams like Abbeville Christian and Lyman Ward Military Academy in Camp Hill, Ala., which will be a nearly three-hour drive from Albany.
There will be plenty of long road trips this season for the Eagles, but Covington believes that will change in coming years as more teams join the Division I ranks of the GICAA and there is more time to develop a schedule.
“The GICAA has an eight-man (football) division, and there are a bunch of schools that have already announced they are going to 11-man football,” Covington said. “As these schools continue to grow, Division I will grow.”
Sherwood jumped on board as the GICAA was just taking its baby steps as an organization, and Covington believes it’s a league that will be here to stay.
“Everything that I have experienced from an organizational standpoint and from a standpoint of putting together rules and committees has been first class and has been done extremely efficient and timely,” Covington said. “They are on the right track building something that will be extremely positive.”
One league aspect that especially impressed Covington was the way disputes are handled. Division I disputes — such as recruiting violations or rules concerns — will be addressed by a committee of Division II representatives, and vice versa.
“This way, you won’t have a coach who might have a vested interest in that division or region sitting in on that dispute,” Covington said. “You don’t have to worry about that, and I think that was very smart on their part.”