Mikey Clow stood up during Life Christian Academy’s post-practice meeting Tuesday afternoon to address his teammates.
Practice was a lot of fun today, he told them, because of the way the players were encouraging each other.
“(Monday) during practice we had film and walk-through,” the senior said. “Coach started to really get on us, and he wanted to encourage us to start praying for each other.
“So, one of our homework assignments was to text another guy on the team, and ask him what he wants to have prayed for, just to build up the relationships. ... Today, I felt like with us encouraging each other during practice, it made it more fun.”
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Everyone was in good spirits, Clow said, after Life Christian wrapped up practice on its newly installed turf field behind the school. And, the Eagles (4-0) have been in good spirits for a while now.
“This year we kind of took on a new mentality,” second-year coach Bobby Miller said. “Everything is new. He makes all things new is what scripture says, and we preach that to the kids.
“We have a new field, we have new jerseys, we have new players, and we have a new mental attitude.”
This isn’t the Life Christian team that was winless through four weeks and finished 3-7 a season ago. In the first four weeks this season, the Eagles have outscored their opponents by a combined 100 points, and are allowing less than two touchdowns per game.
The turnaround started after Week 4 last season, when the depleted Eagles forfeited to Class 2B powerhouse Adna. Life Christian had only 13 eligible players because of injuries, and half were freshman. Miller vowed that day to find more players.
“I just got in the hallways and started talking to kids we felt should be out here and weren’t out here,” Miller said. “This field has really helped. This used to be a baseball dirt and mud pit. The gracious donors of the school made this field, and I think it’s been attracting a lot of players.”
Life Christian’s turnout has doubled this season, and the Eagles now have more than 30 players on their roster.
“I think the overall athleticism, skill level and camaraderie with everyone on the team (is better),” Clow said. “In the past, we’ve always been scrapping up players to come out and play. We’ve had 15-20 players at most.
“This year, we’re pushing the mid-30s, if not higher. ... It’s changing the whole atmosphere and face of this program.”
Life Christian added 10 freshman this season, and six more players from the school who hadn’t turned out in past years.
“It’s encouraging,” said junior Jacob Sullivan, who leads the Eagles in tackles (43) and sacks (five). “We realized we have big numbers, a lot of potential and a lot of talent.”
“It’s a lot more fun having players to (practice) with, instead of having to go half-line, half-offense, half-defense to only work the right side and then the left side,” senior Seth Donaldson said. “It’s so much more fun to go full speed at practice. It makes things a lot easier and a lot smoother.”
Senior Noah Robinson (12 catches, 202 yards, five TDs) leads the Eagles in receiving this season after opting to focus solely on basketball last year. He said this year’s group is more positive than when he played football his first two years of high school.
“We have more unity and closer friendships,” Robinson said. “We did a lot of team-building during the summer. We went to camp and that got us gelled together.”
Freshman Dai’Shaun Nichols is averaging a team-high 142.8 all-purpose yards per game and has six touchdowns — four rushing, one kickoff return and one punt return — and two interceptions on defense.
“When he gets that ball, he’s going hard and pumping like he’s Adrian Peterson,” Miller said. “Then, bam, he cuts on that one foot, one turn and he’s gone.”
Junior Caleb Garrison (49 carries, 379 yards, three TDs) is leading the Eagles in rushing, while Miller says junior quarterback Nathan Joslin (21 of 36, 267 yards, six TDs) is much improved.
“This team has probably been the team that has bought in the most since I’ve been here,” Miller said. “This is my sixth year (overall) here, and it’s fantastic. There is something very special about this group.”
The Eagles play in perhaps the state’s most competitive 2B league, and face five ranked programs in Rainier, Adna, Morton-White Pass, Napavine and Onalaska to wrap up the regular season.
Teams in the 2B Pacific Mountain are a combined 23-1 entering Week 5, and the one loss was to defending 2B state champion Kalama.
“Everybody is good this year,” Sullivan said. “All top 10 teams. I’m excited.”
And, this season, the Eagles feel confident in their ability to compete.
“I just love the competitive atmosphere we’re building here,” Donaldson said. “I’m glad we’re doing it now for our senior year.”
“I’m excited to see where this program goes,” Clow added. “With us building up this year, with all of the young guys we have, it’s going to be amazing to see where God takes it.”