By Maurice Patton
Zion Christian athletics director Derek Boyd targeted this as “a big week” for the Eagles’ football team.
Participation numbers, traditionally limited for the program, had been similarly so under first-year coach Jeff Jordan, but Boyd was hopeful that in the second week of preseason work following the dead period, they’d see an upswing.
And they did.
“After talking to him (Monday), we had about 15,” Boyd said earlier this week. “The numbers were a little bit lower last week.”
Boyd and Jordan remain optimistic that as the calendar flips and classes start in August, the roster will see a surge that will make all involved more comfortable ahead of the Aug. 20 season opener against Grace Christian.
Right now, though, ‘how many’ may take a back seat to ‘who’.
At least five pivotal performers from last year’s 4-6 team that were available to return have yet to do so, including all-state selection Luke Perko.
As a junior, Perko threw for 1,432 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 822 yards and seven scores. Both yardage figures were the second-most among SM-Tn Sports area programs, with his passing TDs tops among all area quarterbacks.
Additionally, receiver Max Brown – fourth among non-seniors last season with 327 yards with an area-high 23.4 yards per reception – has, like Perko, opted out of preseason workouts to this point. Ditto for receivers Sam Duffy, Jaron Keyser and Wesley Riggins, although Keyser’s absence is likely related to the facial injuries he sustained during baseball season.
Though the numbers aren’t high, Boyd feels they’re sufficient for the Eagles to get to the home opener against Grace Christian and through the nine-game slate – which also includes September home games against Mt. Pleasant, Eagleville and Summertown.
“I feel OK because, just talking to the people at Zion that have been around for a while, several have said they’ve had 15 or 16 (players) in a season,” said Boyd, entering his second year as the school’s AD. “After talking with Jeff, I don’t know that I’m that concerned yet. His thinking is we’re going to have 16 to 18.
In addition to the expected increase in numbers once classes begin, Boyd said efforts have been made to attract area home-school students. With Zion Christian leaving the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association at the end of the 2020-21 school year, that becomes a more workable option.
“With us playing independently, … that’s a possibility for us to gain a few kids,” he said. “I think once we can get school started, … I think our numbers will go up.”
Standard game scheduling contracts include a cancellation penalty of $2,000 – another potential numbers issue for Zion Christian.
“If we roll up in a couple of weeks and we don’t have but 12 or so coming consistently, then of course I’d be very concerned,” Boyd said. “But I don’t really have a concern yet.
“We plan to (play). That’s our plan as of now, for sure.”