Posted: 8:57 pm Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Boca Raton Christian may need divine intervention to save its season 

By Matt Porter

Boca Raton Christian coach Kent Stapleton is praying for his team, but he knows he may not receive an answer.

“God knows what we need and God will open the door when the time is right,” he said.

Already the area’s smallest program — 16 players — his team has had so many injuries, they are forfeiting Friday’s game against Berean Christian.

The Blazers haven’t yet been able to finish a game.

In the preseason, Boca Christian was winning 6-0 against Sheridan Hills Christian when coaches called the game in the third quarter. Down 14-0 at Highlands Christian, the Blazers couldn’t fight on. Their Week 2 game against Coral Springs Christian was canceled outright.

“You just get to the point where you do what you need to and call it,” Stapleton said. “I can’t look at a kid who’s 5-foot-6, 115 pounds and say ‘that’s my new center.'”

What may save the Blazers’ season is a bye week, before their Oct. 2 matchup against Westminster Academy.

“Hopefully by the time we get to Westminster, the injuries will heal and we’ll be able to give them a competitive game,” said Stapleton, in his second season as coach.

It’s true that Boca Christian’s losses have been at key positions, but “when you only have 15 or 16 guys, every position is a key position,” he said.

The Blazers’ starting quarterback, sophomore A.J. Puente, transferred to Atlantic this summer. Starting two-way lineman Clay Varner, a junior, is out for the next few weeks with a shoulder injury.

Worse, Stephen Smith, the Blazers’ starting running back, kick returner and best defensive back, broke his leg in the Blazers’ first game of the year. He had the Blazers’ only touchdown of the year, a 78-yard run in the preseason against Sheridan Hills Christian.

“I feel bad for Stephen, too. He’s had a couple colleges looking at him,” Stapleton said. “Now all we can do is show them tape of what he did as a junior.” Florida Atlantic and Florida International liked the 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior, who projects as a slot receiver, Stapleton said.

Charlie Cowley, a 6-3, 245-pound tight end, was Boca Christian’s best player last year. After drawing interest from Miami and Wisconsin, Cowley signed with Illinois State.

Bill Hood started the Boca Christian football program and its first varsity season was 2001. Only two players have reached Division I: running back Chris Chapekis (a 2003 grad who went to Jacksonville) and linebacker Graylord Gedeon (Class of ’06, Rhode Island).

Last year, the Blazers had 17 players on the roster, and Cowley played tight end, defensive end and punter.

Games are difficult, and the practices test the Blazers’ resourcefulness. They can’t perform a traditional offense-vs.-defense practice. Their line can’t battle an opposing set of linemen, and the wide receivers can’t go against the secondary — they are the secondary.

So, they get creative. Boca Christian coaches line up in formation, and middle school players join practice as a scout team. However, there is no contact. “We can’t hit the middle school kids,” Stapleton said.

The coach hopes some of those middle-schoolers join his program when they hit high school. Nine of this year’s varsity Blazers are freshmen or sophomores. “That’s over half the team,” Stapleton said.

“[The hope is] if we stick it out, and get nine new players a year, eventually we’ll be 30 strong.”

Stapleton admits he and Boca Christian’s administration have discussed forfeiting the rest of the season, but he said it wouldn’t be fair to the remaining teams on the Blazers’ schedule, and the Blazers themselves.

“The seniors have worked hard for four years. We can’t just walk in and say ‘Sorry, we’re done,'” Stapleton said. “We want to do everything we can do play out the balance of the season.”

Pride is the buzzword around the team.

“The guys know they don’t have a game for three weeks, but they’re out there practicing,” said Stapleton. “That speaks volumes about where their attitudes are. They want to play.”