Freedom football coach John Brown thought his coaching butterflies had fluttered off years ago. Last week, he found out that was not the case when his first-year program took the field for its first game, which happened to be against his old school, Hylton.
"Heck, I've coached in four state championships with two different coaches and won three, and played against Gar-Field for humongous games and countless regional championships and lots and lots of playoff games," said Brown, a 1994 Hylton graduate and nine-year assistant at Hylton, most of that time coaching under his father, Bill, a member of the Virginia High School Hall of Fame.
"I thought when I go out there it won't be that bad. I won't be that nervous. But it turned out I was pretty daggum nervous. When you step on the sideline and it's your team and you're in charge of getting your team ready to play football, it's a little bit different."
Freedom lost to Hylton's JV, 18-8, on Tuesday. The originally scheduled opener -- Sept. 9 against Osbourn Park's JV -- was rained out. The next game is at home at 7 p.m. Thursday against Battlefield, the other new school in the county.
Battlefield is 0-2 after 34-0 and 33-6 losses to the Dominion and Brentsville varsity teams, respectively. The rest of the Bobcats' schedule will be against JV teams. Freedom and Battlefield will play full varsity schedules next year.
Brown is glad Freedom did not schedule any varsity games for its first season, even though he could see benefits to doing so.
"We wanted to experience teams on our level," he said. "There's a huge difference between sophomores who may have been in the weight room and may not have been, versus a varsity team that's been established and knows where they stand and has been through two-a-days before and knows how to run an offense and a defense.
"I didn't want to put a team in a situation like that to start out with. Usually those two or three [varsity] games are at the beginning of the year. We wouldn't have been ready for it."
Only 28 players reported to the first day of practice at Freedom. That number is now up to about 60 players spread over the freshman and JV programs. Even so, that is a lower turnout than Brown expected: The school ordered 200 helmets.
"I wasn't surprised, I was shocked," Brown said. "Coming from someplace like Hylton, where you don't have to try to get kids . . . We couldn't believe it. Then we had more kids come out. We got a list of all the males in school and tried to call as many as we could."