A year ago, Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach could barely field a football team.
The Saints’ numbers dropped so low that they were forced to forfeit games. At one point, they had just 10 numbered players on the roster.
That’s no longer the case. With a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator, the Saints have about 25 students on the team. Players say there’s a possibility they could add even more athletes because of the positive vibes the program is generating.
“We’re better than we’ve ever been,” said Vinny Pellegrino, a junior wide receiver and safety. “The new coaching staff’s really changed a lot. It’s a lot more intense. We actually get stuff done.”
Although there’s now a heavier offseason workload, players have embraced the rigorous new training regimen. They know the workouts pay dividends.
“We’re out here really working hard, something which we haven’t done before,” said Nikko Coriell, a senior captain who plays inside linebacker, center and long snapper. “We’ve got two new coaches out here. They just brought new energy to us. It’s pretty crazy. They just fired us up and we’re working hard for them.”
One of those leaders is head coach Brandon Eason, a former college football player who took the reins of the program in May. He had been a wide receivers coach at a Florida prep school before moving to the Grand Strand. Eason was joined by defensive coordinator Milow Weems, who is also in his first year with the Saints.
Like the players, Weems said the offseason training is transforming the program.
“From our spring workout all the way to now, we’ve got guys who maxed in the weight room [with] weights that they’ve never lifted before in their life,” Weems said. “I have an eighth grader right now who’s deadlifting over 300.”
For the players who endured a winless 2018, the enthusiasm is a welcome change.
After notching the SCISA program’s first winning season and earning a playoff bid in 2017, the Saints lost 10 players to graduation.
For a small private school, that’s not an insignificant hit. Last year, they struggled just to dress enough players to compete.
“We had a lot of trouble with numbers last year,” Pellegrino said. “There’s just a different attitude [this year]. It’s a lot more energy. It’s more exciting. People want to play.”
Players say Eason has been talking up the football program since he arrived, and that’s led to a better response from students.
“Those kids just came out,” Coriell said. “We didn’t have to ask them.”
Players appreciate the fact that the 27-year-old Eason lifts weights and runs with them. He doesn't simply bark orders from the sidelines.
“That’s a very important thing,” Eason said. “I don’t like to just be that kind of coach that says, ‘Hey, do this, do this, do this.’ So I run with them. I compete with them. They get to see that side of me. … They get to see me going through the same struggles that they go through.”
A Massachusetts native, Eason played slot receiver and tight end for American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, and later for Worcester State University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Eason said he came to Christian Academy because he wanted to work at a school that allowed him to publicly share his faith. He said the Saints’ motto this season is “Be a part of the brotherhood” and the students seem to be embracing that approach, having more than doubled last year’s numbers.
“Every kid has told me this is the most excited they have been for any season they’ve ever played of football,” he said. “I never want that to die down.”