Saints rebuilding

Jackson Fritz is improving as Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach practices. The Saints will be playing at Williamsburg Academy at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 24. 

The 2017 season was one for the record books for the Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach football program.

First-ever winning season? Check. First-ever playoff berth? Check. The start of a winning tradition? Not so fast. The record-setting season came at a big expense to the young program, which lost 10 seniors (more than half the SCISA Class A team's roster) who were seventh-graders when the Saints first launched their program in eight-man football in 2013. What's left behind is a small, youthful squad hoping to build on last year's momentum.

“That was a special group of guys and they left their mark on the program,” Christian Academy coach Matt Adams said. “We will truly miss them and their leadership. We will, however, be bringing back some good athletes this year and we are looking forward to seeing who will step up to lead.”

The Saints return a vital cog to last season's success in senior quarterback Braden McCauley, who completed 87 of 181 passes and threw 18 touchdowns to only seven interceptions in 2017. He knows his role as a team leader will be key to keeping the program on an upward trajectory.

“Last year was a lot of fun and we accomplished a lot of firsts, but we have to put that behind us and work hard if we are going to keep winning,” McCauley said. “I’ve been playing quarterback since the eighth grade and it has taught me a lot. I know I have to be a good leader and help the younger guys.”

McCauley has one primary weapon in his arsenal in fellow senior and wide receiver Jalen Matthews. The 6-foot-4 basketball standout can go up and get the ball for McCauley, which could come in handy with a revamped backfield and offensive line.

The departure of running back Christian Gaskins, the school's first SCISA North-South Game selection, and the bulk of the offensive line could literally leave the ground game up in the air. “We lost a lot of key players who will be hard to replace, but we have some young players coming up that can really help us,” said junior offensive and defensive lineman Nikko Coriell. “We don't have the numbers we had last year, so a lot of us are going to have to play both ways. We've got to work hard and get in good shape because the only time we will leave the field is halftime.”

Coriell and sophomore Vinny Pellegrino will be the leaders up front on both sides of the ball, and senior Rawley Merchant is versatile enough to contribute everywhere from defensive end or the secondary, along with Matthews and McCauley.

“We've set our goals pretty high because of what we did last year,” McCauley said. “Having a winning season and making the playoffs was such an awesome feeling and you want to keep doing it and keep getting better.”

More importantly, the Saints want to establish a winning program for years to come.

“We want to prove that last year wasn't a fluke,” Coriell said.

Christian Academy opens the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Williamsburg Academy, which the Saints defeated in a 34-33 shootout last season, opening with a stretch of four road games in a five-game span.

“It's going to be tough, but we just have to play through it,” Adams said.

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