Hawks coach George Crace hopes to develop players prior to joining high school team

Photo Credit: DAN BROOD - HEAD HAWK -- Horizon Christian High School football coach George Crace gives direction during practice last year. The Horizon Christian program is adding a middle school team this season. TUALATIN — The Horizon Christian High School football team has already found some success in its young history.

Now, a plan is in place to make the Hawks’ path to such success run even deeper.

Horizon Christian Middle School is gearing up for its first ever season in an 8-on-8 football league.

Though Horizon Christian High School head coach George Crace won’t coach the new team, which will include both seventh and eighth-graders, his footprints can be spotted all over the programs founding and philosophies. In fact, Crace coached up the players at a quasi-training camp to teach them the fundamentals of football and a winning attitude.

Crace enlisted new Horizon Christian head baseball coach Ray Pearson to be the team’s head coach.

Pearson will run virtually the same offense and utilize similar drills that Crace runs with the Hawks’ high school squad.

“My job is to take Crace’s plan and put it into effect,” Pearson said.

Crace and Pearson hope that with the help of this program, by the time kids reach the varsity level, they will be schematically well prepared.

“They are already going to know the terminology, know the offense, know the defense and get to know the varsity coaches,” Pearson said.

However, Crace and Pearson don’t want to pigeonhole players so early on in their careers for the sake of potentially building a better roster in the future.

And they feel an eight-man league facilitates that jack-of-all-trades mentality.

“This gives us a chance for kids to move to different positions. You aren’t just gonna have a set group of linemen, receivers and quarterbacks. All these kids have the opportunity to touch the football, where I don’t think you really do in the 11-man game,” Pearson said.

Crace and Pearson hope to help players develop mentally and emotionally as well.

Before every practice, Crace imparts wisdom during a “check up from the neck up” pep talk.

“We are trying to build unselfish attitudes. We want kids to think that there is a crown just above their head, not on their head because that builds selfishness. We want to let them grow into that crown,” Crace said.

He also strongly urges kids to focus on academic achievement.

“We like to help kids become good students and athletes and that the student part has got to come first,” Crace said.

A recent Sports Illustrated article states that professional football requires the same brainpower as playing an instrument that is trying to work against you.

Though playing middle school football is clearly much simpler than playing in the NFL, Crace wants players to use their noggin to the fullest.

“The body may not be able to do certain things, but the brain is the primary organ in the body. How are you training your brain? What inputs are you putting into it,” Crace said.

The team will first compete in a jamboree and then play two games each against Portland Christian, St. Paul and Perrydale. Crace said the other teams were happy to bring aboard Horizon Christian.

“When we said we wanted to be in the league, everybody was really excited. They needed one more team to make it even,” he said.

But above the lessons and philosophies, Crace and Pearson just want the kids to enjoy themselves and develop a love for the game.

Pearson said: “They have to enjoy it to come back and play it. If we came out and winning was everything and we didn’t teach them the life lessons of what football can do for you outside of the sport and they don’t have fun, they aren’t coming back. And if they don’t come back, I’m going to have to answer to George.”

The Horizon Christian Middle School football team will open its season Sept. 15 when it plays in a jamboree at Perrydale. The squad’s first home game will be Sept. 29, when it hosts Portland Christian in a contest starting at 4 p.m. on the Horizon Christian turf field.

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