HARRINGTON – Through five prep football games this season, Jake Payton has racked up more than 500 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns.
Not bad for someone who, prior to this fall, had never played football before.
On the other side of the ball, Payton’s teammate, Cam Manaraze, has nearly 40 tackles, including four quarterback sacks. He had played football before, but not since Pop Warner.
Both seniors are part of the Eastern Shore Bucks, a new prep football team with a roster comprised of athletes from across Delmarva that are either home schooled or attend public or private schools where football is not offered.
If not for the Bucks, neither would have known the feeling that comes along with crossing a goal-line or making a potential game-saving tackle in a high school game.
“I think of it as an honor,” Manaraze said of being able to play for the Bucks in their inaugural season. “It’s my senior year, this is the first year this team has come, so every time I walk out on the field I thank God for giving me the opportunity to play. And I thank coach, because I’m home schooled but I have an opportunity to play in my final year.”
Manaraze’s head coach is Milford native Dan Young, who had been gauging possible interest in a football team for players like the 23 he has on the current Bucks roster.
Young, along with Delmarva Fellowship of Christian Athletes Director Randy Chambers, noticed that local homeschooled athletes and those in smaller private schools had no avenue for playing the sport in high school.
“They either stop playing or they stop being in a school they’ve been in from (kindergarten through eighth grade) and go to a whole new environment where football is an option,” Young said. “So, we put some feelers out to see if anyone was interested and we got feedback within two days.”
Fundraising and locking down facilities to both practice and play on followed. The team does the former at Harrington Baptist Church and the latter at Heritage Bible Baptist Church, which is west of Greenwood toward Denton, Md.
Due to Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association policies, the Bucks cannot schedule games against any of their home state’s schools that are currently DIAA members. That has meant scheduling games with teams as far away as Williamsburg, Va. A positive, though, is that long trips promote bonding, something that Bucks players have come a long way with since their first few weeks of practice.
“It’s really been amazing, because it’s a first-year team and we didn’t really know each other, but everyone has come together,” Manaraze said. “We’ve really meshed and become a family honestly.”
As would be expected of a new program, things didn’t go too well from a win/loss perspective in the Bucks’ first two games, a pair of losses to the Central Maryland Christian Crusaders and Maryland Christian.
But, a lot of memories were made in those games, including some for Payton, who got to experience his first hit by a defender.
“Running the ball, I thought I would get hit and hurt,” Payton said with a laugh about his expectations prior to the Aug. 23 opener. “But, it’s a lot harder to tackle me than I thought. After I got hit the first time it was just an adrenaline rush. You get up and want the ball again.”
Since those first two losses, the Bucks have been on a tear, winning three straight and even earning a spot in the National Homeschool Rankings Journal top 25. That is a source of pride for the young men, according to Young.
“In our first two games we played two of our toughest opponents and the score reflected our not gelling yet,” he said. “Now they have a couple games under their belt and put some things together. When we are playing teams that are evenly matched, we have done well.
“For a first-year program to be ranked anywhere, I think that’s a great thing,” Young added. “And the guys are really pumped about it.”
The Bucks play their last scheduled home game Saturday, 2 p.m., versus Maryland Academy Tech & Health Sciences. There is a possibility the team might play one more home game at the end of the season in a “bowl game” for the Mid-Atlantic Christian teams that don’t reach the playoffs.
Regardless of how this season ends, Young plans to continue the program in the future. Anyone that qualifies and is interested in playing for the Bucks can contact him at 302-258-9203.
“We’re not taking anybody from public schools unless they don’t have a football team,” Young said. “If your school has a football program and you get cut, this isn’t where you come. I’m going to tell you just to keep working hard and try out again for (your school’s team) next year. But, we’re going to provide this for whoever wants to be a part of it (under the set circumstances).”
Members of the Bucks 2013 roster are: Xavier Townsend, Dylan Cramer, Seth Pappas, Jacob Payton, Cam Manaraze, Micah Kauffman, Sean Swartzentruber, Daniel Kauffman, Chappelle Stanford, Andrew Wilhelm, Tim Petrone, Jared Payton, Josiah Davis, Grady Motter, Luke McQuay, Allen Neales, Justin Chayfinch, Blake Russell, Barclay Malik, Noah Bibb, Jacob Dorrell, Jacob Stolle and Josh Dorell.
The Journal sports editor Jeff Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com.