CONYERS -- It's been an up-and-down season for the East Atlanta Mustangs football team, and while its 3-5 record may suggest otherwise, there have been more ups than downs.
The Mustangs -- who play in the Glory For Christ League, a consortium of small Christian schools and teams featuring home-schooled student-athletes -- still have the opportunity to reach the postseason with a victory over visiting Augusta Prep on Friday. The two teams will clash at 7:30 p.m. at the Earl O'Neal Sports Complex on Old Covington Road in Conyers.
"If we win this week by 14 points or more, we're in the playoffs," Mustangs coach Joe Blount said. "So at least we have a chance and we have something to play for. We're playing Augusta Prep and they beat us 22-12 earlier this season. We think we have a chance, which gives us encouragement and excitement for the week, so that's good, and playing at home should also help."
Unlike a number of the teams they face, the Mustangs coaching staff is all-volunteer, and because players hail from so many different areas, practices are held only three times a week. While Blount sees a definite competitive challenge, he also views his team with an understanding that wins and losses don't mean everything.
"We have an interesting group of kids -- a lot are home-schooled and others go to small Christian schools that don't have football teams -- so we consider it a ministry and an opportunity to get to know and encourage a lot of these kids," said Blount, now in his second season as coach of the Mustangs, who this year number about 30 players and count Georgia senior offensive lineman John Bodin among their alumni.
"A lot of the schools we play have varsity, junior varsity and middle school teams, but we kind of have varsity and junior varsity together. All of our coaches are volunteers, which is different from many of the teams we play. Our league is a good combination of Christian schools and teams like ours. We're offering something we hope will make their high school experience a little broader."
Assistant coach Rodney Hull represents one of the ways the players' experiences have been broadened. Last year, the 74-year-old Covington resident, who has an extensive military and investigations background, saw a newspaper item about the team and contacted Blount to see if he needed any coaching assistance.
"He saw a notice about the team in a community calendar in the paper and he called me," Blount said. "He said he was retired from the Army and he was looking for something to do, so he wanted to come out and get involved with the kids."
"I moved here from Maryland about four years ago," Hull said. "I was down here for a while and I normally stay active playing senior softball or something like that, but I haven't had that opportunity, so last year I saw a notice where Joe was looking for players. So I called him and told him I was interested in coaching if he'd have me. So he called me back and I told him about my experience."
A native of Annapolis, Md., home of the U.S. Naval Academy (Hull said that even as an Army officer, he cheered for the Midshipmen in their annual gridiron clash against "West Point"), Hull, a Vietnam veteran, retired from the Army in 1979 and was involved in football during his military career.
"I played two years at Morgan State in Baltimore and I played five years in the military," Hull said. "This was in the early 1960s. I was a commissioned officer in the military and I retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Military Police Corps. I had played five years in the military in Fort Dix, N.J., and in Okinawa, Japan. I also coached a youth football team in Germany for a year, and while I played in Okinawa, I was an offensive and defensive end coach on the Army team there."
Blount said Hull's influence on players has been much appreciated.
"He's got a strong Army background, and for the kids who want to go into the military or ROTC, he can point them in the right direction," Blount said. "He's a really good mentor for a lot of the boys and he also knows football, which is good."
Hull who is also a diehard Baltimore Ravens fan and returns to Charm City several times a year to watch the team has relished interacting with his players and being part of the game again.
"I enjoy being with the young men," he said. "We didn't win every game, but there were a lot of the kids who had never played before, so you could see the growth over the season. And this year, we've gotten even better. I'm glad to be out there. The boys are enthusiastic and it's a Christian league so it's a good place for them to build character and develop into good men."
At the conclusion of his military career, Hull spent nearly two decades as a criminal investigator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., and still works part-time as a contract investigator for the Department of Homeland Security.
"I also do income tax and still have clients in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area," he said. "I go up twice a year and take care of their income tax. I also usher at my church and am on the steward board. I'm 74, feeling younger every day. I'm too young to get out there and play golf."
NOTES: Friday's game will be the last regular season encounter for the Mustangs' only seniors, receiver Patrick Smith and tight end/nose guard Brandon Green; Smith is questionable for the game due to a previous injury ... The Mustangs had nine seniors in 2010 and won but two games ... The Mustangs have recorded victories over Northside Christian, the HSD Panthers and the North Georgia Falcons... For more information on the East Atlanta Mustangs, visit www.eastatlantamustangs.org.