TROY — Better late than never for Chris Vitale.
An football assistant coach in the prep scene during the past decade around Metro Detroit, Vitale assumed his new duties as head coach of the Troy Christian Leadership Academy Tuesday night — some eight days after the start of high school training camp.
The Defenders’ coach the previous two seasons, Dan Chester, left the program recently, with three assistant coaches leading the team until Vitale was brought on board. Chester was also athletics director and teacher at Christian Leadership.
Vitale spent the past two years as a defensive coordinator at Class B St. Clair Shores South Lake, which made the Division 3 playoffs last November and finished 8-2. Previously, Vitale was also a defensive coordinator at Sterling Heights Parkway Christian for three seasons, helping launch that program five years ago.
“I know what it’s like to help get a program going,” he said. “I was at Parkway and the first year (2006) we finished 9-0 and reached the playoffs. That is a rarity.”
Although Christian Leadership Academy is featured as the host school by name, the tiny Christian school in Troy does not hold any financial obligation to the program. The football program is funded by the Christian Football League of Michigan, which is its own governing body of eight programs.
This is the fourth year of football for the Defenders, and the fourth year of the CFLM, which also features the Flint Genesee County Home School, Muskegon Shoreline Breakers Home School, Lansing CHAP, Saline Washtenaw Catholic Home School, Detroit Downriver Home School, Grand Rapids West Michigan Christian Home School and Howell HATCH. The teams play each other, plus some other small schools from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
In football only, members of the CFLM are restricted from playing varsity teams from MHSAA schools because of the playoff points system.
The season is only two weeks away, not giving Vitale much time to get acclimated to the athletes and prepare them for the trenches.
“We don’t have a lot of time. I came in here Tuesday as my first official day with the kids,” said Vitale. “We have some good athletes and a couple of really good players. But we don’t have a lot of bodies. There are only 17 kids right now. We are working on trying to encourage a few others to play.”
The Defenders practice at Five Points Baptist Church in Auburn Hills. But all of their games will be away. Troy’s home field the last two years, the Auburn Hills Shark Tank behind the Auburn Hills Community Center, is being renovated, leaving that stadium with limited availability.
Students at Christian Leadership Academy or home-schooled athletes in the area are welcome to try out. There is a nine-game regular season schedule, plus the CFLM playoffs in late October. Games are played on Fridays or Saturdays.