When the Stephenville Faith Knights kicked off their first season of homeschool football, head coach Cody Martin couldn't have imagined just how far the program would come in a year.
The Knights barely missed the playoffs by a ratings system technicality in their inaugural season last fall. They have already produced a college-bound player in Howard Payne's Colton McCabe. Now, they have a pair of assistant coaches who have experience playing six-man football at its highest level.
"Things are going great," said Martin, whose Texas Christian Athletic League club kicked off two-a-days Monday. "We've showed up with a lot of energy. The kids are excited and I'm excited."
Martin said a few players even had surprises in store for their head coach.
"Lucas Leamons was a big nose guard and lineman for us last year," Martin said. "He spent the summer slimming down and working on his speed and agility and it shows. He's been so impressive and playing aggressive to the point that we are scrambling to find other ways for him to help us. We're looking to get the ball in his hands."
Martin has also been impressed with freshman quarterback Chad Cole, who has big shoes to fill with McCabe gone.
"Colton was great for us, but he had a big arm and was almost more of an 11-man quarterback," Martin said. "Chad is definitely a prototype six-man quarterback. He can really move."
Two players Martin didn't need to be surprised by are Daniel Winkler and Jacob Thompson, who both play running back and linebacker. That's because he already knows what the duo is capable of.
"Daniel has had a good week and looks ready to have another great season," he said. "Jacob is still getting over an injury from last year, but he's getting some reps now. I can tell after being hurt so long that he's fired up and ready to play."
The Knights suffered a setback this spring when defensive coordinator David Steele left for a full-time teaching and coaching job at Cherokee.
"I hated losing David. We had a comfort level together because we've known each other for a long time," Martin said. "The kids were kind of down because they like David and he's great with them. But if it had to happen, I'm glad it happened in the spring because we've had time to get past it and move on."
Helping the Knights move on have been Tarleton State students John Cherry and Zack Wood. Cherry played spread back and quarterback at Gordon in his high school days, while Wood was a center at powerful Highland.
"Zack is the son of a guy I go to church with, so I had access to him," said Martin. "John actually saw our game at Gordon last year and contacted me. It didn't take me 20 minutes of talking with him to know he could help our program tremendously."
The coaches haven't disappointed, says Martin.
"The kids are already telling me how much they like them," he said. "They've been great.
Martin says practice this week has been much more efficient than the first week last year.
"We're getting to move through things a lot faster," he said. "Our biggest improvement from last year is going to be our football IQ. We're moving so much quicker on the field because we're thinking less and reacting more."
The Knights have scrimmages at Granbury Happy Hill next Friday and at Temple Centex homeschool group Aug. 19 both at 7:30 p.m.
Faith will play its first game at its home away from home in the season opener. The Knights are calling Bluff Dale's field home this fall and host Lingleville at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 27.
"That's kind of a rivalry just because we started at the same time and played each other in our first game," Martin said. "It's a friendly rivalry and should be an interesting matchup. Hopefully we can get a crowd out to Bluff Dale that night so we can show everyone how much both programs have improved over the last year."