The Lions’ Share
The baseball field at Valley Christian Academy looks as if it hasn’t seen a ballgame in about 10 years. Orange cones are scattered throughout the outfield, where the grass isn’t mowed. Some weeds are beginning to sprout around home plate and parts of the infield and warning track.
Just beyond the third base dugout sits a stationary bike, an array of water jugs and a vintage green flippable chalkboard with the day’s football practice agenda. You read that right: football practice is underway.
With an enrollment of just over 100 students, a roster of about 18, no on-campus football field to call home and a first-year head coach who never played the game, it would seem that the odds are stacked against the Valley Christian Lions.
Just don’t tell that to the players.
“It’s prideful, to be honest,” says senior and third-year varsity starter John Hibbs of his uniquely charming practice facility.
“This is the nicest it’s been,” says senior captain Drake Williams. “Most of the time, this is just dirt and some stickers.”
The Lions may not have the ideal practice conditions, but the work and preparation for Friday nights in fall is the same as anyone else in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
“A lot of the guys are ready,” says Williams. “Everyone is really into it and wants to give all of their effort this year.”
Valley Christian went 2-7 a year ago with a 1-3 mark in the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League. Their lone league win came against Foresthill, in which the Lions tallied a season-high 42 points as Williams rushed for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
The Lions are now under the direction of first-year head coach Doug Williams (Drake’s father), who admittedly never played football growing up.
“I know I’ve got some holes,” says Coach Williams, “but I’ve got a great staff that knows what we’ve got and knows what I’m about, and they’re helping me plug in the holes.”
Coach Williams has enjoyed the early toughness and unselfishness of his team. He says the biggest strength of the 2018 team is its “grit and openness to want to play both ends.”
The Lions play their home games at Highlands High School in North Highlands, which will see its first Valley Christian action Sept. 8 against Turlock Christian.
With a roster of just 18, expect most of the Lions to tackle double-duties on offense and defense. Look for junior Bradyn McIntosh to take the Lion’s share of the quarterbacking duties with protection up front from the likes of Brody Williams (Coach Williams’ younger son), Vincent Cusick and Reagan Valenzuela, who will all likely form parts of the defensive line as well.
Those looking to haul in passes offensively will also be looking to take them away defensively. Andrew Foster, Pavel Miller and Brady and Erik Meyers are all listed as wide receivers and cornerbacks for the Lions.
Drake Williams and Hibbs look to fill the all-purpose rolls while manning the linebacker positions on defense.
“You never know what’s going to happen during the game,” says Drake. “Sometimes you play lineman on offense, and then you’ll play DB on defense. It just kinda depends on what your skill set is and how you best fit the team. You’ve just got to be ready for it.”
Conditioning is a major part of the daily routine for the Lions.
“Going both ways is tough,” says Hibbs. “You have to play the whole season that way, and that’s a big challenge.”
Just don’t expect Valley Christian to shy away from any more challenges come mid-August.
“I think all the (SMAL) teams are tough competition,” says Coach Williams. “They’re all well-coached. They have more athletes than us. Our athleticism is better than it has been in the past. Hopefully, we can work hard enough to catch them off guard.”