The players making up Grace Academy's 2014 varsity football team have affectionately been dubbed "The Tenacious 20."
"I've been here since I was 3 years old," said senior two-way lineman Logan Groves, whose time at Grace goes back to nursery school. "We've always had teams with less than any other."
But 20 is a small squad even by Class A standards. At one time there were 23 on the team, but attrition took its toll.
The Golden Eagles' senior class consists of Groves, fellow linemen Austin Parks and Sam Cowart and kicker Josh Leamon.
"We're the guys that everybody else is going to look up to," Groves said. "That kind of increases the bond. We've got to keep the young guys motivated."
Groves said one thing about having a squad that size is that everyone gets plenty of repetitions in practice. He found time to work a little bit at linebacker, just in case an injury occurs to someone and he could be needed there.
Grace coach Bob Ateca said he likes sophomore quarterback Jared Thompson's throwing arm, and he has more than a couple of capable receivers to throw the ball to. The defense will be young and tackling is the coach's greatest concern on that side of the ball.
"They've worked really hard and given us their best effort," Ateca said of his players. "One thing, though, is we've got to fight through the thought of the number 20. We tell them, 'It doesn't matter how many they have on the other team. There will only be 11 among the white lines, just like us.' We're going to fight everybody. We're going to take our 20 and we're going to believe in being tenacious."
- Kelley Smiddie
GRACE ACADEMY GOLDEN EAGLES
Head coach: Bob Ateca (53-80 in 15 seasons overall; 15-26 in four seasons here)
Last year: 4-6
Returning starters (O/D/K): 2/2/2
(all games at 7:30 Eastern unless noted)
Aug. 22 - at Chattanooga Christian
Aug. 29 - at Grundy County, 8
Sept. 5 - Davidson Academy
Sept. 12 - Lookout Valley
Sept. 26 - Eagleville
Oct. 3 - at Boyd-Buchanan*
Oct. 10 - Sale Creek
Oct. 17 - Silverdale Baptist Academy*
Oct. 24 - at Jackson County, 8
Oct. 31 - at Copper Basin*
* District 5-A game
RB/DB James Rowell (5-7, 145, Jr.) is a tough runner who's quick and elusive and has decent speed. To date, his statistical worth has best been measured in his average yards per carry. G/NG Logan Groves (5-10, 195, Sr.) is a prototypical team leader. An example is the standard he sets as a hard worker in the weight room. QB/LB Jared Thompson (5-10, 215, So.) started the last few games at quarterback last season and has a strong throwing arm. He'll also play a prominent role on defense.
Playing soccer in the spring, Ateca believes, has helped G/DT Eli Rogers (5-10, 220, Jr.) improve his footwork in football. He's following two older brothers who played football at Grace. OL/LS/DT Austin Parks (5-10, 225, Sr.) has worked hard, according to Ateca, to trim down and get in great shape, knowing he's being counted on to contribute on both sides of the ball and as the long snapper on special teams. DB/WR Austin Walls (6-4, 155, Jr.) is 15 but so smart he was allowed to skip a grade in school. Ateca said he's also reliable and a hard worker. The team wants to take advantage of his height as a receiver, and 7-on-7 drills have helped him improve as a defensive back.
"Single-A football is the toughest level I've coached. First of all, at practice you've got to find where to put people. And you hear about adapting your offense to who you have. That's even moreso at this level. You can find a quarterback at a 5A school who can throw the ball or can run. Here at a small school you take what you have and you do the best you can." - Grace fifth-year coach Bob Ateca, whose more-than-20-year coaching career overall included a stint as offensive coordinator at Austin Peay, with 120 on its squad.
By the numbers
4 - State playoff berths for the Golden Eagles in their nine-year history of varsity football, although they're still seeking their first playoff victory.
7 - The most wins in a season in program history. Grace was 7-4 in 2008, losing to Watertown in the first round of the Class A state playoffs.
47 - Points Grace averaged per game in its four victories last season, compared to the 15 average in its six losses.