LEESVILLE – Faith Training Christian Academy flies under the radar in Vernon Parish because it does not play any local teams due to Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules.
However, the Patriots are making the long road trips and are out to a 16-3 start.
"They're very athletic and very talented," FTCA head coach Jarrius Merritte said. "They don't like to lose. If they are supposed to beat a team by 30 and only beat them by 30, they're not satisfied. They want to push it to 40. They want to work. They had the option of taking this week off and not practicing until Thursday, but they wanted to practice on Monday."
FTCA is 7-0 in league play and is pushing the pace of play this season.
"We press, and it's something these guys weren't really used to until I came," Merritte said. "They were used to sitting back, but we want the game to be fast paced. We are averaging around 85 points a game right now."
FTCA plays in the Association of the Christian Educators of Louisiana league, which scatters the Patriots across the state and into Texas to play ball. They are unable to play regular season games against local teams due to LHSAA restrictions.
"It's tough, and I give it up to these guys because the overall GPA of the team is 2.8," Merritte said. "That's at a B/C average. The league requires a 2.0, but I require a 2.3 average. It's rough because sometimes we don't get back until two or three in the morning. That's just getting back to the school, not them getting home. It's rough sometimes, but they handle as well as any team could handle it."
The Patriots are led by senior guard Jackie Johnson (16 ppg) and junior forward Skylar Phillips (15 ppg) – both of which were all-state selections last season.
"Skylar is probably the best big man in our league," Merritte said. "He was a first-team pick last year and averaged just at 18 points a game.
"Everybody's preseason MVP this year was Jackie Johnson. He averaged around 20 points a game last season. The only reason one of them didn't win MVP last season is because they took votes from each other."
This season marks Merritte's second season as head coach of FTCA after coaching at the AAU level since he was 17.
"We didn't start as much but became the No. 1 AAU team in the state of Louisiana," he said. "We traveled to Florida, Las Vegas, everywhere. I heard they were looking for a coach, and I came in for two or three interviews and got it. This is my first high school coaching job, and it's different coming to high school from AAU. It's more detailed in high school. The AAU teams play three or four games a day. Here, there are a lot more details.
"I still feel like I'm learning every day. I just turned 25 and have been coaching almost eight years. When I came in, I came in as a head coach. I didn't get time to sit and learn. I was just thrown into the fire. I learned from mistakes I made and learned how to deal with parents and players."
The Patriots are back in action Friday night in Brookeland, Texas, and their next home game is on January 14 against Lighthouse Christian Prep.
"They have a will to win, and they want a championship," Merritte said. "I return a lot of players from last year – two first team all-staters and three of our five starters. We return a lot of players that suffered that heartbreaking loss in the semifinals last season. They were so close last year, but now, they want to be so much better that they no doubt that they will win a championship."