Long-time high school football coach Bruce Lane and his wife had long targeted the Athens area as a landing spot with family nearby. So when the head coach opening at Bethlehem Christian Academy came up earlier this year, Lane jumped at the opportunity to come to a school he was already familiar and impressed with.
“The main thing was having played here last year and seeing the environment and people, you could just tell God’s hand was on this place, that special things have happened here and will continue to happen,” said Lane, whose Westfield Hornets defeated the Knights 21-7 at BCA in 2019. “There’s a group of kids here who are hungry for success. They’re willing to do whatever they need to do and they’ve been very committed in the offseason and the summer. The biggest thing now is just continuing to develop relationships and trust with them. I feel very good about where we are. They’re good young men.”
Lane comes to BCA with a strong track record of success, having won 215 games in a head coaching career that spans back to 1988 with Monroe Academy and a pair of South Carolina Independent School Association state championships (Augusta Christian in 2005 and Wilson Hall of Sumter, S.C., in 2013). He will be the Knights’ third head coach in as many seasons, taking over for Gus Felder, who left the school this spring after taking a strength and conditioning coaching position with the Carolina Panthers.
In most circumstances, that turnover would present challenges for players, but Lane said the transition has been smooth — aided by the fact that Felder’s assistants remain on staff at BCA.
“There was already a solid foundation in place when I got here, and the staff has done a good job developing a good culture,” he said. “Some of the typical things you might deal with coming to a new school, those were taken care of. I was able to get in here right away and start developing relationships, start teaching the schemes and start on the right foot of having the kids be willing to work and accept the changes that come with being part of a new program.”
The team has also grappled with the coronavirus pandemic and a two-week delay to the start of the season. The Knights will officially begin year one under Lane’s leadership on Friday, Sept. 4, when they host Strong Rock Christian School of Locust Grove at 7:30 p.m. Despite the delay, Lane has seen some benefits and his team was able to work in a preseason scrimmage at John Hancock Academy in Sparta on Aug. 21, which he said yielded positive results. While the teams didn’t keep official score, the Knights scored five touchdowns and kept the Rebels out of the end zone.
“Obviously the circumstances surrounding the summer have been challenging,” Lane said, “but the season getting pushed back some has helped us in that it’s allowed us to slow down some, have kind of a spring practice on top of what we’ve been doing, and then we had a good opportunity at the end of the first full week in pads to line up against somebody else who was running a little different scheme than us. It tested us and challenged us, and I think it was a very good starting point.”
The Knights have a mix of returning veterans and newcomers who will try to improve on the team’s 1-10 mark from a year ago.
Leading the I-formation-based offense will be senior quarterback Ethan Guthas, who returns as a starter after showing steady progress as the 2019 campaign went on. Guthas has continued on that trajectory in preseason camp and went 9-of-11 passing with a pair of touchdowns and added a score on the ground in the scrimmage at John Hancock.
Lane said senior running back Chad Norwood will be counted on heavily out of the backfield for the Knights while junior Ty Whiting has emerged as the team’s top receiving threat, and senior Jeremiah Helton and junior Logan Garmon anchor an experienced offensive line.
“The biggest challenge for Ethan and our other guys has been getting the verbiage and terminology we use down,” Lane said. “But as they’ve become more comfortable with that and seen that some of the types of plays we’re running and formations we’re using are similar, they’re settling in and doing a good job.”
With a 30-man roster, BCA will rely on numerous players to start on both sides of the ball. Garmon, Helton, junior Joseph Adams and senior Luke Roberts will be leading the charge on the defensive line while junior Chandler Cavoretto, Norwood and Whiting will be counted on to lead the linebacking corps. The secondary will feature mostly younger players, but senior Simon Steele is a returning starter who Lane said provides a strong veteran presence.
The Knights began preparing for the season opener against Strong Rock by treating last week as a “typical” game week and are continuing that approach this week. It remains a very much a year of uncertainty with the pandemic continuing to linger and the possibility every team has to contend with that the season may not be completed.
It’s also not entirely clear what BCA would have to do to make the postseason. The Knights have only three other teams in their region — Westfield, reigning state champions John Milledge Academy (Lane’s alma mater, which he was head coach of from 1995-99) and Creekside Christian Academy of McDonough — and are part of a 13-team Class AAA, which will have a 10-team state tournament that will be based on a power-ranking system the GISA was still ironing out last week.
But for Lane, the approach is simplified: Attack every day and win every week.
“All we can do is control the things we can control,” he said. “All we’re thinking about is the next practice and our first opponent. Our goal is to go 1-0 each week, and at the end of the season, we’ll tally that up and see how we’ve done. We hope there are more wins and losses and it’s certainly a goal of ours to be in the playoffs. And beyond that, every kid dreams about playing for a championship one day, so that’s a goal and we’re going to keep working toward that.
“Anything less than setting those goals would not be fair to the kids.”
BCA 2020 SCHEDULE
Sept. 4 — vs. Strong Rock Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 11 — at Towns County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 18 — Open
Sept. 25 — at Augusta Prep, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 2 — vs. Southwest Georgia Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 — Open
Oct. 16 — at Notre Dame Academy, 4 p.m.
Oct. 23 — vs. Loganville Christian Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 30 — at Thomas Jefferson Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 6 — vs. John Milledge Academy, 7:30 p.m.*
Nov. 13 — vs. Westfield, 7:30 p.m.*
Nov. 20 — at Creekside Christian Academy, 7:30 p.m.*
*— denotes region game.