Way-too-early football predictions; ACSC edition

Published 3:14 pm Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Evangel is turning the reigns over to Micah Murphy, a rising junior, who will quarterback the Lightning offense. (File)

Evangel is turning the reigns over to Micah Murphy, a rising junior, who will quarterback the Lightning offense. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

You might have thought we were done. You might have thought there wasn’t any predicting left to do, but oh how wrong you were.

Past the 11 public schools in the county that play under the umbrella of the AHSAA, there are five other schools that have football as well. Three of those are private AISA schools, which we will get to later, and two play in the Alabama Christian Sports Conference, which is a private, non-profit organization comprised of Christian institutions including campus schools, homeschools and homeschool associations, per the conferences’ website. This prediction edition focuses on the two ACSC schools in the county, the Evangel Christian Lightning and the Hope Christian Eagles.

The ACSC plays eight-man football as opposed to 11, which makes for a unique on-field product. The Lightning and the Eagles are not only two of the most successful ACSC teams, but they have been two of the most successful programs in the county in recent years. Since Tony Nafe took over as head coach of the Eagles in 2012, Hope is 25-9 while Evangel is 31-5 over the same span and has claimed two ACSC titles along with a National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) National Championship to boot. Both teams are in for some changes this season, but both have the pedigree to handle the coming adversity.

The biggest and most glaring change coming for both programs will be at quarterback. Evangel loses Andrew Thompson, a three-year starter in part responsible for all of the Lightning’s recent accolades, while Hope will be without Reid Allen, the do-everything quarterback who tore his ACL the first game of last season, but still earned a college scholarship based on his work as a junior.

The Eagles are turning the reigns over to a freshman, Colin Kirkpatrick, who Nafe and his staff are very excited about. Kirkpatrick has good size, he’s 6-feet-2-inches tall, and has started on the JV team each of the past two seasons. The Lightning are putting the ball in the hands of Micah Murphy, a junior who is the younger brother to Mason Murphy, last season’s Conference MVP. Micah Murphy no doubt has the athletic and familial pedigree to be successful under center, and last season as a sophomore combined for 30 touchdowns through the air in spot possessions as quarterback, on the ground and as a returner.

While the quarterback situation will no doubt be the focal point for each team, there are some defensive adjustments both teams will have to make as well in order to be successful. For Evangel, that means replacing All-Conference linebacker Tyler Byrd, and for Hope, it means switching up their defensive scheme to accommodate this specific crop of talent.

In eight-man football, the defensive backfield is usually full of guys who can play both linebacker and safety. Hybrid-types, who can drop back into coverage or get into the backfield. For Hope this season, that will not be the case as they are experimenting with a more traditional linebacker and safety look, which will hopefully keep teams from opening up big plays. For Evangel, losing Byrd means losing its defensive leader, a role that will have to be filled by committee. Time will tell how well the Lightning defense adjusts.

Way-too-early predictions: While both teams are young in areas and have to replace key position guys, Hope and Evangel will once again be at the top of the ACSC pile when it is all said and done. With a freshman under center, the Eagles are still a year away from competing for a championship, and their ACSC title drought will continue for another year. Evangel, on the other hand, lost the ACSC title for the first time in four years, and will claim that title back this season behind a high-powered offense.