Every year thousands of high school football teams - public and private - around the country, compete all season for an opportunity to play in the state championship. It may not be voiced or emphasized by each team, but the goal is the same: win a championship.
The Rock Hill-based Carolina Crusaders and the five other teams playing in the Pioneer Football League (PFL) don’t play for a state championship.
The Crusaders are not a traditional high school football team, and the PFL is not a traditional high school conference.
“We’re run differently,” said Andy Moon, who coaches the Crusaders. “We are a Christian organization so we have a devotion once a week. We’re trying to teach beyond playing football, we’re trying to teach them how to be young men, how to be better men. Also because we are small, they’re going to get playing time.”
PFL teams don’t play in any state playoffs and the league was founded and operates in accordance with Christian principles. It focuses on producing well rounded individuals instead of just improved football players.
“Our teams are usually a little smaller than a regular public school team,” said PFL league commissioner Kevin Hefner, who also coaches a member team from Asheville. “I think our teams are a little more family oriented. It’s a little different atmosphere - a bit more intimate.”
The Crusaders were a founding member of the league. It initially offered eight-man football, but switched to the 11-man game in 2010. The league serves kids aged 12-18 across the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Traditionally the league was open to home-school kids who did not have an opportunity to play high school football. But the PFL opened its doors to public and private school kids as well.
“I don’t think they come to the private leagues looking for better exposure,” said Hefner. “I think sometimes kids will switch teams or decide to play for a league like ours because it’s a better fit for them.”
The Crusaders draw players from Gaston and Mecklenburg counties across the border. Still more come from the Rock Hill and Fort Mill regions, including several from public schools in those areas.
The team has won the PFL championship four of the past five years. With a 25-man roster, most of the kids play both sides of the ball.
In their season opener against the Tennessee Silverbacks on Aug. 13, the Crusaders secured a convincing 30-0 victory despite exhibiting first week jitters - dropped passes and penalties. Hubbard caught a 50-yd touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Downs. Crusader Zeph Boe intercepted a pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, and Johnson took over in the fourth quarter scoring two touchdowns at running back. Moon felt pleased with his squad’s performance.
After a bye this past weekend the Crusaders play the Anderson Cavaliers this Saturday at District Three stadium at 6 p.m., a game that will perhaps put them one step closer to their version of a state championship.