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ELCA coaches work hard to get players noticed at next level

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

The Eagle's Landing Christian Academy football team is loaded with talented athletes who will eventually take their skills on to the next level.

Heading into the season, the Chargers are ranked 10th in the Class A Associated Press preseason poll.

One of the reasons, three seniors are expected to move on to the Division I level as tight end Christian Reeves (Virginia Tech), offensive lineman Matt Rochell (Air Force Academy) and Union Grove transfer cornerback Avery Walls have all attracted the attention of college scouts. Walls is still weighing his options from several major colleges.

Others are sure to follow the trio of athletes to the college game.

Making sure their players get a chance to move on to the next level, recruiting has gone high tech at Eagle's Landing Christian and it appears to be paying off.

Assistant coach Tim Luke has taken charge of the process, creating a database where he has e-mails for almost every college coach in the country. The last e-mail count totalled nearly 1,500 in the system.

In addition, ELCA has jumped on the youtube bandwagon.

Head coach Jonathan Gess uses the computer to link highlights of his players to any correspondence the school makes with college coaches.

It's all part of the school's plan to build a winning football program every year.

"We have great weight training facilities, we make sure our kids get recruited if they can," Gess said. "Are your parents going to have to sacrifice a little bit with tuition? sure, but their kids are getting a quality education in a Christian environment. We are going to take care of our kids, and that's why kids are starting to want to come here."

Simply put, if a player has an ounce of football ability, the coaching staff at ELCA will work tirelessly to get them into a school. Luke considers getting the word out on ELCA players part of his coaching duties; no different from working with the special teams, something he does every day at practice.

"I really believe that helping kids get noticed is a huge part of any program that is going to be successful," Luke said.

I think a coach has to care enough about his kids to get them to the next level. My question to any coach that doesn't want to do this is, why are you in the business?"

Gess, Luke and the rest of the ELCA staff know not every player can compete at the Division I level, but there are plenty of other smaller schools out there.

"If a kid wants to go to an NAIA program or a Division III school, it's our job to get them there," Luke said. "I don't understand any coach who's philosophy is any different than that."

The emphasis ELCA puts on recruiting is paying off. This summer more than 40 college coaches came through the doors of the private school in McDonough.

It's not hard to tell why college coaches are flocking to the ELCA campus and coming away impressed.

A year ago, ELCA finished with a 9-3 record, including a loss to long-time power Lincoln County 39-26 in the playoffs,

The Chargers led the Red Devils with eight minutes to go in the game before a turnover and a fourth-down stop ended their season.

This time, the Chargers might have their best team since joining the Georgia High School Association in 2004.

More than 70 players came out for the team this summer, and with the spread/wildcat offense, junior quarterback Aaron Spratlin has plenty of offensive weapons to throw at opponents.

Reeves has great hands and the addition of wide receiver Alex Williams, who transferred from Eagle's Landing, give the Chargers a dangerous 1-2 punch.

The Chargers might have one of the top running games in the state.

Sophomore running back Keyante Green is already considered one of the top sophomore running backs in the country. A year ago, he piled up 2,008 all-purpose yards. Junior running back John Tatum rushed for 700 yards.

With veteran offensive lineman Matt Rochell and Tanner Rogers anchoring things up front, ELCA's offense is going to put up points.

On the other side of the ball, ELCA is expected to run a 50-defense.

An already good defense got even better over the summer when Walls came aboard. The free safety has offers from several schools, including SEC foes Auburn and Tennessee.

The linebacking core of Cole Carrera and Cody Rush bring experience to that side of the ball. Nose guard Tyson Black helps plug things up in the middle.

Cornerback Will Dellinger adds to the Chargers' tough secondary. Junior defensive end Justin Thomson and defensive tackle Isaac Rochell could both emerging as major college prospects by the time they are through playing at ELCA.

With all the depth and experience at ELCA, the Chargers are one of the favorites to win the Region 5-A title.

This year, region 5-A has been realigned into new subdivisions. ELCA will play out of the south half which includes long-time rival Landmark Christian, Whitefield Academy, First Presbyterian, Our Lady of Mercy and Southwest Atlanta Christian.

Strong Rock Christian, a private school in Locust Grove, is joining the GHSA for the first time and also plays in the Region 5-A South.

"Our goal is obviously to be the best you possibly can be, and we feel like coming off the last two years we have a really good shot of winning the state championship," Gess said. "Now a lot of things have to happen. You have to avoid injuries and you have to play well."

ELCA gets it started with a road trip against North Florida Christian in Tallahassee next Friday.