Everything is new this fall for St. Joseph Christian football.
The faces, the teammates, and even the dimensions of the field are something the Lions have never experienced.
St. Joseph Christian announced a MSHSAA co-op partnership with Northland Christian, elevating the program to 11-man Class 1 football after a successful two-decade run in 8-man.
“It’s a startup. I get asked about expectations and to be honest, I don’t have any because I don’t know yet what kind of team we’re gonna have,” head coach Troy Schenk said. “A lot of these guys have never played football before, so you just don’t know how they’re gonna react those first four games. You’re hopeful, but at some point you can’t have the expectation until you know what you have.”
Northland, founded in 2006, will experience the school’s first football season when the Lions host Putnam County on August 30. The team will go by the name of St. Joseph Christian and play games at SJCS, meaning a 45-minute commute each way, each day, for the players from Northland.
None of them have ever played high school football, and many have never played a game on the gridiron in their life.
“That means a lot. I love this sport. It’s been a great center for my life. Some of these kids haven’t grown up playing and had that experience yet. I’m trying to convey to them how great the sport is,” said Jeff Rich, an assistant coach from Northland. “For them to do what they’re doing without that background says a lot about them.”
The Lions struggled to field a full team last season, even playing games with 10 guys at some points. The co-op allows for squad size to increase dramatically with the plan to revamp the football program, even restarting a junior high program that hasn’t existed for a few years.
“It’s actually really exciting,” senior John Gregory said. “It’s something new that none of us have really experienced. Moving up to 11-man is exciting and gets my adrenaline pumping.”
Though everyday is like a road game for the players from Northland, they noted the bonding of the daily travel and how welcome they’ve felt at their second home.
“I think it will be interesting and fun,” senior Jack Adrian said. “It will be fun for the Northland kids because our school’s never experienced a football game. St. Joe will have fun playing a different and cool atmosphere.”
Alongside Gregory, the Lions return quarterback Brent Boyd, but many other pieces are still getting worked out and are unproven. They plan to rely on their speed and athletic ability as they navigate a makeshift schedule this year, even playing multiple Saturday afternoon contests.
But once fans file in at SJCS for the first Friday night of 11-man football, a new era will officially be underway.
“I think there’s gonna be electricity in the air,” Schenk said. “That will be the first time everyone’s together supporting one team.
“It’s two schools, but one family.”