Hope, Evangel to begin 8-man season

Hope and Evangel meet Friday for the first time in a varsity football game since Evangel head coach Steve Dean and a number of other families left Hope in 2003 to form Evangel Home School.

“It’s going to be great,” Dean said. “They’re great people over there, and we’re both really seeking to do the same thing in the way we’re wanting to blend scholastics and athletics … Most importantly, we’re almost neighbors.”

However, things are never easy when one school splits from another. Dean said there was a little bad blood between the two early,

“I really didn’t leave to start a football program at Evangel. We just had a lot of families that had different ideas of how we wanted to do a home school program … I made it real clear that my family and I were making the change,” he said.

Dean said he later felt guilt about the move and things were awkward for a few years.

“We liked the idea of starting a new program at Evangel, but at the same time it was awkward to leave Hope, because Hope had been so good to me and my family over the years.”

The split kept the two 8-man football teams off the same gridiron for three years, until the junior varsity broke the ice last fall.

Now that the door has been opened for the two neighboring home school programs to play, they’re ready to have the rivalry begin.

“I’d like to feel like we’re going to win,” said Hope head coach John Gordon, whose JV team dismantled Evangel, 42-16, last year.

“With that win and a lot of last year’s JV playing on this year’s varsity, I’m hoping we still have an advantage.”

Leading the charge for Hope this year is last year’s JV quarterback Zac Hughes. A freshman last year, Hughes collected 271 all-purpose yards. As the JV’s starting quarterback, Hughes rushed for 187 yards and four touchdowns, including a 50-yard touchdown run.

After watching Hughes’ and Hope’s ability last year, Dean said he has a few concerns for Friday’s opener.

“They honestly have some athleticism and some good speed. That concerns me, but I think we’ll match up well,” Dean said.

Evangel will work to use its strength inside on defense to negate Hope’s speed and what it needs to work the ball to the outside.

Gordon said he hopes this is the year to come out of Hope’s slump, winning only 30 percent of its games the past four years, with the return of leading receiver Robert Jacks and a good lot of defensive backs.

“We’re kind of restructuring a bit working on using our talents the best we can use them It looks really promising,” Gordon said.

Dean agrees.

“They’ve had a few down years, but they’re well coached and they work really hard and have some good young players,” Dean said.

Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Hope’s new “home field” at the Columbiana City Park.