After leading his first official practice as Summit Christian Academy’s head football coach, Todd Berck had something else to tackle Monday: A U-Haul full of boxes and furniture.
“I still have all my home stuff ready to unload at my house and we’re going to do that tonight,” Berck said. “The mixture of the first day of football practice and moving into a brand-new house … it is exciting.”
The first practice day often symbolizes a new beginning, and this year that’s certainly true for Berck and SCA. He’s moved across the state after many years in suburban St. Louis, and the Eagles are moving on from the coach who started the program and a group of seniors key to its early success.
Monday’s practice was the first one not led by Dalton Vann, the man who started SCA’s football program in 2012 and led it to a 27-17 record over four varsity seasons. Last season SCA finished 11-2, won its second straight Crossroads Conference title, its first district title and advanced to the Class 2 state quarterfinals.
Sam Huckabee, the quarterback who racked up 2,375 yards and 25 touchdowns passing and another 787 yards and 23 TDs rushing last season, is also gone. So too are receiver Zach McConnell (1,507 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns), running back Malik Looney (807 rushing yards, six TDs) and most of the other skill players from last year.
“Last year’s a completely different team,” said senior lineman Jack Shoemake, one of a handful of returning starters. “We’re way different this year and we’ve got to look forward and not behind.”
That’s the mantra Berck will preach to his team this season. It’s expressed in the Bible verse printed on the back of the Eagles’ new T-shirts: “Forget what is behind, strive for what is ahead.”
“When we fail or succeed, when we dwell on either one of those things we get ourselves caught on either pride or depression,” Berck said. “Good or bad, whatever’s happened in the past, learn from it, enjoy the moment, but get past that.
“Teams we play don’t care what our record was last year. They’re already thinking about who’s gone and what’s happened. We can’t control that. All we can control is what’s in front of us.”
Berck had 28 players out for the first day, including a group of bleary-eyed seniors fresh off the bus after a missionary trip to work with handicapped kids in Galveston, Texas. Off-season injuries thinned that number a bit, but it’s not far off the 34 total from last year.
It’s an especially small roster for Berck, who spent 15 years at Francis Howell Central, a Class 6 program in St. Charles, Mo.
“We’re kind of thin right now,” Berck said. “We’ve got a lot of kids going both ways. We’re hoping to pick up a few more this week as school starts.”
With a roster that’s green as well as thin, Berck plans on putting more emphasis on the fundamentals early on. He’s doing this while he also installs a no-huddle offense that will also be departure from the past.
“You focus on fundaments and making sure kids not only know what they’re doing, but the technique to get that done,” Berck said. “Then you start to see the cream rise to the top. We have one or two kids fighting for each position but we don’t have a lot of depth.”
Berck hopes to have those battles settled before SCA’s season opener Aug. 18, which will be at home against Christ Prep Academy. And even if they aren’t settled, and he’s still unpacking boxes in his new home, he will still be ready to begin the new chapter in Eagles football.
“There’s a lot of tradition here. These kids know how to win,” Berck said. “I’m excited about having the opportunity to work with these kids.”