Grand Lake head coach Derrick Fendley watches as his starting quarterback, junior Luke Miller, runs through a drill. The Hornets will field their first varsity football team this fall. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:52 AM
GRAND LAKE — While most schools have been waiting months for the start of the football season, Grand Lake has been waiting years.
For the first time in school history, Grand Lake will field a full varsity football team this season.
The Hornets practiced on an undersized, overgrown field behind their high school Monday, 36 players taking instruction from seven coaches.
Leading the group is head coach Derrick Fendley, a former football player and teacher at Barbe who has been building a team at Grand Lake for the last four years in anticipation of this season.
“The kids’ attitudes, the coaches’ attitudes, it’s just a different atmosphere,” Fendley said. “So much more electricity. It’s excitement. Everybody’s got their head help up high and ready for it.”
Grand Lake began preparing for this season five years ago, when the students comprising this team were middle schoolers looking to continue playing football.
“It was the right time,” Fendley said. “The school was getting bigger. We’ve grown. They started some peewee programs before we even started and those peewee kids were starting to grow up and there was nothing for them in middle school. The only other school that had football was 45 minutes down the road, so if we had the numbers, why not have football?”
Before Grand Lake could start fielding a team, they needed help, which came in the form of equipment like shoulder pads, helmets and cleats from schools like S.J. Welsh and Barbe. The school board helped fund the project and the student-athletes held a number of fund raisers to accumulate everything necessary to start a team.
“The community is proud of this,” Fendley said. “They show it by their support and the kids have expressed how much it means to them. When you’re doing the fund raisers, the people are just pouring in to help these boys and help this program get on its feet. The relationship between these boys and the community is a great one.”
The Hornets spent two years playing junior high football, two years playing junior varsity and now, the group of seventh and eighth graders that began playing together in middle school are getting their first taste of varsity action.
Fendley acknowledged he was taking a leap by attempting to coach a team that would one day develop into the school’s first full varsity football program, but said the community and surrounding coaches helped him along the way.
Quarterback Luke Miller, a junior, said what his team lacks in quantity, it makes up for in heart and teamwork. Many of the student-athletes at Grand Lake play multiple sports, with all but a couple players from the basketball and baseball teams also spending time together on the gridiron.
“They built a bit of a brotherhood,” Fendley said. “The things that go along with football. They’re buddies. They fish, they hunt, they call each other on the weekends, they think about football together. It’s something special to see.”
Fendley said the team doesn’t know just what to expect in its first varsity season, so he’s emphasizing hard work. He mentioned he is excited by Miller’s work ethic and intelligence as a quarterback. Miller is taking his newfound responsibility in stride.
“Now I have to work hard and achieve,” he said. “I like the challenge. No more playing around. Varsity is way different. Each guy and each team is ready to beat each other.”
Grand Lake opens its season Sept. 6 at Ascension Episcopal and hosts its first home game in its new stadium on Sept. 13 against Gueydan.