After losing in the National Association of Christian Athletes national championship last season to Detroit Westside, Brent Burnside is brimming with confidence entering his first full season as coach of the Florida Christian Institute Eagles.
He took over the role midway through last season. This year's Eagles have just 28 players out for the team after losing eight seniors. Burnside, however, believes this year's team has the best group of skill players the program has had.
"I am very excited about this group," he said. "They are going to do big things."
A quartet of seniors heads up that group, led by Dunbar transfer Jorvonte Jones. Two seasons ago at Dunbar, Jones was one of the top running backs in the area, rushing for nearly 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"He's going to be involved in a lot of what we do this season," Burnside said.
Jones will start at running back for the Eagles, as well as be the team's wildcat formation quarterback. Jones also will start on defense at strong safety.
Next to Jones at the other safety position is Fred Pray, a transfer from Immokalee. At 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, Burnside describes Pray as a freak athlete, and someone who will intimidate in the secondary.
"Fred is a big, strong, fast kid who likes to hit," said Burnside.
Pray also will start at quarterback, as well as play some wide receiver. Pray's number-one receiving target is another former Immokalee Indian, Wilford Simon.
"He is the best all-around football player on our team," Burnside said of Simon. "He can do a little bit of everything."
Simon will start as the slot receiver on offense, and cornerback on the defensive side. Simon will play a big role on special teams returning punts and kickoffs.
A third Immokalee transfer rounds out the group of skill players - fullback Demandrea Fuller.
"Demandrea is a load to bring down, he has good size for a fullback and runs very hard," said Burnside.
Fuller will start on defense, at both the end and linebacker positions.
"These four are the nucleus of our team, we are going to build around them," said Burnside.
Depth is a concern, but fielding a team from a K-12 school that enrolls less than 100 students is not that easy. It also makes it difficult to find lineman-size kids. With the Eagles returning only one offensive line starter from last season, Kemali Reid, Burnside must try and patch together a line by the start of the season.
As important as Reid is on the offensive line, he is even more important to the defense, where he calls out the plays as middle linebacker, and is referred to as the heart of the defense.
The Eagles have to travel all over the state for away games, but Burnside does not mind. He enjoys seeing his players' faces when they see Jacksonville or Orlando for the first time. The Eagles' home games will be played at the Page Field Pop Warner Complex.
Florida Christian Institute Eagles
National Association of Christian Athletes
Sept. 3 - vs. Jacksonville Potters House Christian
Sept.10 - vs. Jacksonville Shekinah Christian Academy
Sept. 24 - vs. Pompano Beach Premier Academy
Oct. 1 - vs. Pickens (S.C.) Prince Avenue Prep
Oct. 8 - vs. Orlando Eastland Christian
Oct. 15 - at Bradenton Prep
Oct. 22 - at Orlando West Oaks
Oct. 29 - at Oakland Park South Florida Prep
Nov. 3-6 - SIAA conference playoffs
Nov. 10-13 - NACA national playoffs (Dayton Tenn.)
Head coach: Brent Burnside, ('10) first year
Assistants: Leonard Inge (def. coord.), Marcus Lindsey (off./def. linemen), Karlos Odum (off. assistant/DB).
Team Colors: Purple, black and white
Home field: Jerry Brooks Park (Page Field Pop Warner Complex), Fort Myers