CITRUS PARK — Fielding a team for 11-man football can be a tall order, especially when you're a small, private school of about 300 kindergarten through 12th-graders.
But that's exactly what the Citrus Park Christian Eagles have done.
"We were told because of our size, we couldn't get the participation for it," principal Karen Jeffers said.
The school had played six-man football for four years before moving up to seven-man football a year ago.
"We knew the best way to boost enrollment was to go to 11-man football," said first-year athletic director Mike Guastella. "And we knew to build a program we'd need a young guy with lots of energy, fire and a plan."
Enter 25-year-old Nate Galan.
Galan is just two years removed from a conference title with Eastern Illinois, where he played defensive end. Galan spent one season as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Victory Christian in Lakeland, where he and current running backs coach Dominique Baker won a state title in 2005.
"At the time (when Galan was hired) we had five kids interested," Guastella said.
So Guastella and Galan, who were hired in June and July, respectively, hit the ground running. By the start of fall practice, the Eagles had 13 players. Two weeks ago, they were up to 20, with two more holding paperwork, watching practice.
"He (Guastella) is a go-getter," Jeffers said. "He doesn't sit and wait and let things come to him. He gets after it."
Galan and Guastella spent the last month scrambling to outfit the squad with extremely limited resources. The pair scoured the state for second-hand equipment, eventually landing more than $17,000 worth of equipment for $850, according to Guastella.
There's a host of challenges outside of equipping an 11-man football team. With kids ranging from seventh grade to 11th grade, the "walk-it-off" or "tough-it-out" approach is not always best.
"A lot of it is developing their mental toughness," Galan said. "A lot of them have never fell on the ground before."
Another challenge for the young program is its field. With no lights at the school's nearby Mac Center, the Eagles have elected to play all but one of their games on the road.
"We thought a facility with no lights with a game at 4 p.m., we just wouldn't have good attendance," Guastella said. "We decided to be road warriors and try to build interest in the community. We'll eventually find a place or build our own."
Guastella hopes to have such a plan in place in the next six or seven months. In the meantime, the Eagles will host Faith Christian of Orlando at the Mac Center for their homecoming game Nov. 1.