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Hurricanes to hardware: State champion Eagles exude humility, unity

Smoking for Jesus Eagles

Smoking for Jesus seniors (from left) Jonathan Frazier, George Tope, and Isaac Legier hang out before football practice. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

After the Smoking for Jesus Eagles ended their 2018 inaugural season at 0-10, head coach Charles Frazier Sr. knew something needed to change. He started attending the six-man football games at Faith Academy of Marble Falls. 

“We would go to the games and just watch what six-man was,” he said. “We really didn’t know.”

Frazier wasn’t there to scout competition or enjoy the Friday night lights. He was there to observe.

“I realized being big doesn’t help you,” he said. “Speed is what it takes. We had to learn that.”

In a year, Frazier flipped the program on its head, winning six games and making it to the Texas Christian Athletic League state championship game. The squad’s storybook 2019 season ended with a loss to Central Catholic.

However, the Smoking for Jesus players are no strangers to adversity. Many come from families whose houses were destroyed and lives upended when Hurricane Katrina hit their hometown of New Orleans in 2005. 

After 40 days, nine different stops, and another hurricane — Rita — the 46-car caravan carrying 200 members from Smoking for Jesus Christian Ministry settled in the Highland Lakes.

“It was a big culture shock,” Frazier said. “We went from bright lights and the city to deer and armadillo.”

Coming off of the state title loss to Central Catholic, it was obvious that Frazier wouldn’t allow his team to sulk and doubt their resilience. He encouraged them to overcome adversity, similar to what the church community did during its journey to Central Texas.

The team would go on to win the state championship in 2020 and repeat in 2021, all behind the strong running of the coach’s eldest son, Charles Frazier Jr. 

This year marks the first season that Charles Jr. won’t be a member of the team after graduating and signing a letter of intent with Midway University, becoming the first Smoking for Jesus athlete to ever be offered a college scholarship.

For the Eagles to continue their winning ways in the aftermath of his departure, the team will rely on his younger brother, wide receiver Jonathan Frazier, and quarterback Isaac Legier.

They are two of the last players in the program to have been born in New Orleans before the church’s move to the Highland Lakes.

“This is the last year of the Katrina babies,” coach Frazier said. “Everyone after them was born here.”

The pair have a special bond, playing football together since they were toddlers.

“We’ve been together playing football for our whole lives,” Legier said. “We’re very close.”

Coach Frazier has known Legier since he was a baby due to the close-knit community that Smoking for Jesus Christian Ministry has fostered over the past two decades.

“It’s very comforting,” Legier said. “I’ve played with him since peewee ball. It’s easy for us to listen to him because we’ve grown up with him around.”

This year, Legier and teammate Frazier will look to establish a dominant passing game by using the speed and athleticism of the latter and the strong arm of the former.

“Jonathan knows how to get to the ball,” Legier said. “He’s a very good deep threat.”

Jonathan knows he must uphold his responsibility as a leader to continue the Eagles’ winning tradition.

“I try to show an example and let people follow behind,” he said. “I’m not the type of person to trash talk another player.”

Unlike the longtime teammates, senior George Tope is a late addition to the Smoking for Jesus football roster. Tope joined the squad after being homeschooled his entire life. After years of wanting to play organized tackle football, he got his chance at Smoking for Jesus.

“I never had the opportunity to play organized sports,” Tope said. “When (Smoking for Jesus) announced homeschooled kids could play, I was really excited.”

The program has done a remarkable job at making each player feel important and included. Tope believes his coach’s commitment to recognizing the emotional needs of the kids is a major component of the team’s culture.

“He knows how you’re feeling in the moment,” Tope said. “If he sees a guy who hasn’t played in a while, he’ll let that guy get in because he knows how that feels. He cares a lot about us.”

For coach Frazier, the move to Central Texas and what the Eagles have accomplished in such a short time have been nothing short of a miracle.

“For a lot of people, Katrina was a tragic thing,” he said. “For us, it was a blessing.”

He continued.

“We had the faith to believe,” he said. “From the football side of things to the church and community itself, we’ve blossomed.”

nathan@thepicayune.com