Cornerstone Christian Academy in Colorado is far too small a school to have a full 11-man football program. The 40-student private school knows that. Yet, instead of settling for competing in the eight-man or six-man classification, CCA came up with a novel solution: It recruited home-schooled students to join its team.
To put the CCA's dilemma in perspective, consider this: Most teams the Bulldogs compete against will have more players on their roster than CCA has total students. That's a stunning disparity to overcome as the private academy tries to follow in the footsteps of Valor Christian, above, and other Class 1A programs built to achieve quick success by small private schools.
So, how did CCA head coach and athletic director Park Vogel overcome long odds? According to The Denver Post, the new coach came up with an aggressive outreach program that included advertising in a state-wide home-schooling newspaper, begging interested players within the school to talk up the program and, eventually, meeting with parents of interested home-schooled players in their living rooms. For that final role, he emulated Bobby Bowden while preaching the benefits of a program that didn't even exist yet.
The aggressive efforts paid off, with Vogel drumming up enough support to field a 25-man team that will compete in division 1A against schools more than five times its size.
"This is my first serious year of football. But a lot of the guys on the team have never played football before at all," freshman quarterback Nathaniel Ruble told the Denver Post. "But we're all hard-working. We're putting the work in."
With a roster in place, the obstacles just become tougher for CCA. Because the school is moving to a new facility later in September and doesn't currently have any fields, the team will have to play its entire 2010 schedule on the road. Vogel and his coaching staff are also getting equipment they'll rely on all fall just days before they kick off competitively. According to the Denver Post, players have even had to watch video on the school loading dock, sitting on old rolls of carpet while movers transported parts of CCA's current campus to its new location.
"We didn't have a single helmet, we didn't have shoulderpads. We had nothing," [...] Vogel [told the Denver Post]. "We just got a set of headsets last week. We don't even know if they'll work. [...]
"Everything we're doing is basically just, we're adjusting. We're like MacGyver. [...] Do what we can with what we have. I asked for playmaker software, but we couldn't afford it. So even making aplaybook is a challenge. We're doing things on a shoestring. But it will work."
CCA isn't the first private school to launch itself into Colorado 1A football with fanfare. In 2008, Valor Christian competed at the 1A varsity level for the first time. A year later, the Eagles were Class 1A state champions.
Despite all the obstacles, Vogel is approaching the birth of his program with the mentality that his players can compete as quickly as Valor Christian's did.
"The other day we were talking to a young man about not carrying the ball like a loaf of bread and he looked at us like we were crazy," Vogel said. "When you talk about a Y or a loose nine, they look at you like, 'Huh?!'
"We've worked with them for weeks about just getting a three-point stance down right. [...]
"We're trying to teach these kids it's about can-do," Vogel said. "And to look like a team. We're not the Bad News Bears."
They may not be playing games that count yet, but CCA's early returns have been encouraging. The Bulldogs held a preseason scrimmage against the JV team from Mead High School, and junior Adam Van Eaton, one of the team's backs, took off for a 70-yard touchdown on CCA's first play from scrimmage.
Whether that fortuitous start paves the way to victories is questionable, but even fielding a team for the first game in school history seems like be a monumental victory for CCA.