The Charlotte 49ers are not the only football team in the University City area waiting until the 2013 season to hit the field.
Northside Christian Academy, which hasn’t had a football team at either the high-school or middle-school levels since 2010, has plans to rejuvenate its program next fall.
After seeing its school enrollment and number of football players drop in the late 2000s, the school ditched football. Waiting for the right time to begin anew, Northside hired Greg Estep last spring as the coach to lay the foundation.
The Knights will start by fielding only a middle-school team next fall. If interest from the appropriate age group of players blossoms, Northside will add a high-school junior varsity team in 2014 and play a varsity season in 2015.
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Head of School Tony Fajardo says that Northside never gave up on the prospect of restarting the program. In January 2011, school officials had determined that the fall of 2013 would be their target date for putting a team on the field again.
“I’m a firm believer that football can help build a school,” said Fajardo. “And because of that, we never stopped talking about (re-establishing the program).”
In terms of on-field success, Northside’s program was solid enough when the team was disbanded. In 2009, the Knights posted a 4-7 overall record and earned a berth in the NCISAA Division II state playoffs.
Fajardo said the roster had approximately 22-24 players its final season. The program’s last head coach was Brentson Buckner, a former Carolina Panthers player.
There were plans to play a varsity schedule in 2010 but there weren’t enough interested players to go through with it.
Fajardo insists that increasing enrollment supports the notion that Northside is ready for football again. He says there are 220 students between Northside’s middle school and high school.
It will be Estep’s job to get the students into football uniforms. A former assistant coach under his brother Jason Estep at Charlotte Christian, Greg Estep is familiar with the private school football in Charlotte.
Estep, 30, spent the last two years as the head coach at Westminster Academy, a private high school in Broward County, Fla.
He’s used to having to generate interest in an upstart program. He says Westminster had 35 varsity and junior varsity players during his first season but that the number nearly doubled in his second year.
Estep has not started any formal workouts yet. He says he’s allowing prospective athletes to play their fall and winter sports without worrying about football.
“I’m finding out how many guys want to play among the current 5-7 graders,” said Estep. “I’m getting an idea for what we’ll have. We have 20-25 guys and some of them are playing in the local Pop Warner (youth) leagues. There’s definitely a lot of interest in bringing it back and playing on Friday nights.”
While high school football players may spend the off-season in the weight room getting bigger and stronger, Estep believes there’s no place for that type of strength conditioning in middle-school sports. That’s coming from someone who spent two seasons as a minor league baseball strength and conditioning coach and who is Northside’s weight-training teacher.
Estep says he is going to hold an organizational meeting for players and parents next month. Ten-man workouts will begin next spring and carry over into the summer. Estep will spend the coming months assembling a coaching staff.
Northside’s football team dates back to 1992 so program amenities are already in place, such as the team’s home field, Ward Stadium. Players’ equipment, including the Knights’ scarlet helmets, is still neatly stored in a room inside the campus’ Alvin Dark Sports Center.
“There’s a different feel on a Friday night for a football game,” said Fajardo. “It’s a community builder, a builder for the school. “We’re looking forward to the Friday night lights.”