By Anthony Rhoads
The Mt. Vernon Crusaders are the defending Georgia Christian Athletic Association eight-man football state champions but they are limping into their first game of the 2003 season.
When the Crusaders take to the field against Harvester Christian today in Douglasville, they will be playing without several key players.
Three-year starting defensive end Robert Porter is out with a broken foot and running back Michael Thomas is out with a broken ankle.
In addition to the injuries, the Crusaders lost four other players who transferred to other schools and another player is currently out for other reasons.
Running back Nathan Cook is expected to play tonight but he is recovering from an injury.
Tonight's game will be pivotal for the Crusaders as the team will be putting several young and inexperienced players out on the field. Going into tonight's game, the team will have only 17 players dressed out.
"We've got some kids who haven't played," Mt. Vernon head coach C.E. Rhoades said. "I'm starting new players at every position. I don't know; I really have no idea how they will perform. I expected those several senior starters to be there. I'm still in a little shock after losing them."
Even though his team is young, there have been several players stepping up in practice including linebacker Jackie Wright, tight end Chase Stowe, guard Phillip Coursey, center Blake Stewart, quarterback Clayton Fielder, running back Kevin Hall, tight end Terry White and guard Justin Smith.
"(Harvester) has an excellent running back and a good defense," Rhoades said. "We're going to have to stay basic with everything we because we're so inexperienced. If we get down, we'll have to maintain our composure."
With an inexperienced backfield, the offensive line will be key tonight.
"All I can do is line up and depend on the offensive line to do a super, super-human job and give our backs some room to run," Rhoades said.
Despite the obstacles the team is facing in the early part of the season, Rhoades is confident his team can meet the challenge.
"We've got our job cut out for us but I think if we can play our game, we'll be fine," Rhoades said. "We will show up and play each game 110 percent; I demand that and my coaches demand that. We're going to play tough and show some character whether we win or lose."