It hasn’t been the easiest starts to coaching for former Tennessee Titan Quarterback Rusty Smith at Grace Christian Academy. Smith was hired by Grace Christian Academy to be the football coach in 2015 and it has taken some time, but the pieces are starting to come together for Smith. The Lions went 1-8 in 2018 and 0-10 in 2019. Smith has turned it around this season as his team are 4-3 with the sky being the limit. However, for Smith it isn’t always about winning and losing.
“The definition of success is different for a lot of people,” said GCA Coach Rusty Smith. “But if you bring into perspective what the most important things in life are, it’s not sports, it’s not wins and losses in a game. Based on that, our last few years were not unsuccessful. We as a program grew in a lot of ways. The guys who were leading our program as seniors are Godly men and they were able to lay a solid foundation for the program to continue to build on what is most important.”
While they have a great start to the season, it didn’t start out very well for GCA community. Grant Solomon, who played baseball and basketball for the Lions, passed away in a single car accident this past July. Solomon was spoken of very highly by his peers and his coaches and had a huge impact on his community. One of his closest friends on the GCA football team was Senior Free Safety Wynn Hicks. Hicks is currently one of the main enforcers on defense as he is top 5 in tackles this year for the Lions.
“They created a bond that was literally like a brother,” said Smith. “Wynn has really been affected, and I saw that word because at first it was grief and it was very, very difficult. As Wynn has worked through his grief, Grant’s death has affected him in a positive way. Wynn for sure still feels the loss of Grant, but it is something has allowed our community as a whole to recognize that life is short. Life is fleeting, and what’s most important is our relationship with our creator.”
GCA’s 4-3 start can be attributed to many things. The defense has played outstanding due to the play of Seniors like Wynn Hicks. However, on offense the play of Senior running back Blake Barton has elevated the Lions offense to another level. According to MaxPreps, Barton has rushed for 955 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging roughly 136 yards per game. Barton was the Lions starting quarterback and cornerback his sophomore year as well. Barton says that a turning point for this team was the repositioning of coaches.
“From this year to last year there was some coaching rearrangements,” said Barton. “Coach Smith switched over to defensive coordinator and we actually had enough guys come out to play this year to a two-platoon where we only play offense or defense, we don’t have players playing both sides of the ball. So that allowed us spend a lot of time working on the skills and the one side of the ball to focus on our assignments more. It also always us to be in better shape for what we need to do and not playing both sides of the ball allows us to do a lot more with the time. That just helps us master what we’re doing a lot better.”
When asked about what has brought about this level of play, he stated that one of the main things has been the love of the game. Although he has done very well on the football field, Barton decided to commit to the Belmont University to play baseball. Barton has played catcher and shortstop so far in his career.
“Baseball has always been a passion of mine, I didn’t really get into football into the eighth grade,” said Barton. “Baseball has always been that one passion that I know that I’ve wanted to do past high school. The hope is to get drafted after several years, but God’s got a plan for each of us so I’m just gonna work as hard as I can.”
The GCA Lions football team will be looking to have a bounce-back game against Middle Tennessee Christian after losing its last game to Friendship Christian 55-46. If the Lions end up winning this week, it will put them at the number four spot in the district.