In just their second season of football, the Tennessee Christian Preparatory School Hawks are looking to take a large stride forward toward reaching the school’s goal of eventually joining the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletics Association as a full-fledged member.
They may not reach that goal as quickly as head coach Steve McKenzie wishes, but he is glad to see the team make progress in that direction with a schedule of nine games for 2014, including an Oct. 2 date with Copper Basin.
TCPS will also participate in an end of the season tournament at Fort Bluff, which will push the total number of games to 11.
McKenzie said he is proud of what the Hawks have shown during the summer months and the course of the practice season. The team, he said, has set the bar high for itself and is looking forward to going against the Cougars
“We’ve got a really good group of kids. We’ve got some really good talent this year. I’m more impressed with the work ethics these kids have had. I asked them what goals they wanted and their goals were pretty high for themselves. They want to be undefeated. That’s the bar we’re trying to set for this team,” said McKenzie during the Hawks’ practice on Thursday.
“We will play our first ever varsity game this year, against Copper Basin over there. I think it’s going to be a good test for our kids. They are excited, the school is excited and we’re ready to show Bradley County we are up and coming, but we mean business,” said the coach.
The Hawks, after fielding the first ever football team for TCPS in 2013 have impressed McKenzie with their desire and determination to bring early success to the program.
“The improvement has been night and day this year, compared to last year. Last year we came in as a staff with kids who had never been in a weight room and never been taught how to lift or really how to play the game of football. You can’t go out and play your own brand — you have to play the team brand. We’ve been able to come in this summer and the kids have worked extremely hard and gotten stronger and faster. We think it’s going to be a pretty good year for us,” he said.
But, just because the team is new and the Hawks young doesn’t mean McKenzie won’t demand excellence from every name on the roster, particularly since the numbers are much lower than those of surrounding public schools. There are leaders to be sure, but everyone is expected to give 100 percent at all times and wear the uniform with pride.
“I expect a lot out of every one of them. We’re a young group. We are small in numbers so I expect a lot from everybody. But if I had to put my thumb on somebody, Jordan Elam is a great leader for us. He plays fullback and middle linebacker. Cody Collins is another, as well as Andy Chase. Really, I could name them all because we count on everybody. Rashad Marshall has really stepped up for us at quarterback this year. I don’t want to put my thumb on just one guy, because we count on everybody,” said the Hawks coach.
“We have some pretty good size and we are building numbers. I think as we show a little bit better this year and as the word gets out in town that this school does have a football program we are trying to build, the numbers will grow. I’d like to get around 28 or 30 on the team, that would be a good number for us. Right now we have 20 on the roster; we’re getting there.”
Although the 2014 football season will be played outside the jurisdiction of the secondary schools governing body, TCPS hopes to join the ranks of TSSAA as soon as possible. Regardless, plans to move forward with a full varsity schedule for 2015 are already underway.
“Joining the TSSAA is something we talk about every week within the athletic department. They (TSSAA) just came out with their plan for the next two years, and we are still waiting to see what the word is going to be about the private school situation. That’s obviously going to be a huge factor for us. If we have to travel very far, we are not like the Baylors and McCallies, we don’t have the funds to make the trips to Memphis and Nashville all the time,” stated McKenzie.
“We are planning on playing a full varsity schedule next year regardless of if we are part of the TSSAA or not. But I can see it happening, if not in the next two years, then the next classification after that.”
With a full season of growing pains ahead of him and his team, McKenzie said there is one thing in particular he wants to see from the Hawks moving forward.
“Heart,” he said without hesitation. “We’ve got kids that have never really played before or have never been pushed to the level we are trying to push them to. That’s the biggest thing we preach every day. We may not be the most talented, we may not be the biggest but we are going to have the most heart and the most effort on the field of anybody.”