The eight-man game is similar to regular football, but it’s played on a smaller field – 80 yards long and 40 yards wide – with five players on the line and three in the backfield. Fielding smaller teams makes sense for smaller schools like Cornerstone, which has just 60 high school students (and another 340 in grades K-8).
“It’s definitely a little more wide open because you have less guys on the field, even though the field is shorter,” said Cornerstone Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Casey Copeland, who was a defensive back at San Diego State.
Athletics at a small, private school requires the wearing of several hats on the part of administrators – Copeland’s assistant coaches are Principal Logan Heyer and Pastor Steve Miner. The players range from those who grew up playing Pop Warner football to those who are putting pads on for the first time in their lives.
“It’s been a rewarding experience,” said Copeland at a practice last week on the team’s “home” field at Orchard Park Elementary School in Oakley, just a couple miles down East 18th Street from Cornerstone Christian School. “There’s a lot of patience involved in teaching these kids. But they show up, they practice every day and want to get better and are learning, and it’s nice to see.”
The Cougars’ first-ever tackle football game (they played flag football in junior high) will be Saturday, Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. at Orchard Park Elementary on Live Oak Avenue, and the public is invited.
“If people want to come see a little different brand of football than the traditional, they should check this out,” said Copeland. “It’s huge in Texas and Los Angeles. There’s some really good teams out there, especially on the Peninsula and South Bay and the Chico and Redding area.”
The seven-game schedule includes a trip to Reno to play Pyramid Lake High. It’s an ambitious schedule for a team that didn’t even exist in April. But they’ve been training at Trucks Training facility in Antioch along with practicing every weekday, and Copeland has seen a lot of progress in just a few months.
“Yesterday was one of the best practices we have had,” he said. “We saw kids who are very green using pads and making tackles. We probably have about six kids that are good enough to make a public school team. The rest are green and still learning. But it’s coming together. It’s starting to click now. Our goal is to get the (novices) to the next level – if we do that, we are successful.”
He’ll be looking to several players to help lead the team in its inaugural season: running back/linebacker Luke Miner (son of Pastor Steve), wide receiver/free safety Erinn Love and quarterback/kicker James Maldonado.
Copeland, who lives in Brentwood, has two children attending the school: his daughter Brooklyn, who is in sixth grade, having attended for the past five years, and his son Braxton, who is in third grade.
“The school is awesome,” said Copeland. “It’s very scripturally sound and has all kinds of accreditations. The church is doing really well over there. What I love about the school is it’s a family there. My third-grader last year could walk on the campus and there’s kids in 11th grade, who say, ‘Hey, Braxton.’ I love that about the school. Now we want to really elevate our athletic program.”
In addition to flag and tackle football, the school offers girls softball, boys and girls varsity basketball (the girls went 18-0 last season), varsity soccer and girls varsity volleyball – a team that made the playoffs last year.