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About faith and football
ECI rallies off the the field to become power on the field
Emanuel County Institute h ead football coach Milan Turner, top center, leads hs team in prayer prior to Wednesday’s practice. The small school in Twin City is ranked No. 6 in Class A by the Associated Press, thanks in part to close off the field bond. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    TWIN CITY — Sometimes, it’s about a little bit more than the football.
    In 2005 Milan Turner came to Twin City from Warner Robins to coach the local high school football team. What he found was a group of boys in a chaotic state off the football field. Two years later, the Bulldogs of Emanuel County Institute are one of the top teams in the state, having won 13 of their last 14 games. Turner’s not shy about what he believes to be the reason.
    “It’s just amazing to see how God has influenced our program,” he said during Wednesday’s practice. “You see kids who didn’t care about class work, kids who had behavior problems, attitude problems, you see kids who come from broken homes and things like that. To see the change in the personalities and their work ethic — it just makes it exciting.”
    The Bulldogs do more than just practice, work out and watch film together. They have team dinner every week, sometimes with coach Turner and wife Wendy providing the rations, and spend Thursday night’s hanging out, watching football and becoming a family. This summer they took trips to the water park and to Spartanburg, S.C. for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp.
    “We’re real close off the field,” said defensive tackle J.C. Lanier, who weighs in at 332 pounds and stands a healthy 6-foot-4. “Coach Turner, he preaches to us a lot to keep good faith and don’t act stupid. Two years ago we used to get in a lot of trouble out here. But we’re a whole different team now.”
    With their faith and their coach, the Dogs also rally around the underdog role. With just 45 players on the roster, ECI’s motto has become, ‘Respect Everyone — Fear No One’.
    “Our kids know we’re a small school, so we’re going to respect our opponent — but we’re not going to fear them,” said Turner.
    In all actuality, it’s opponents who have begun to fear ECI. The Bulldogs enter this week ranked No. 6 by the Associated Press in Class A, and have outscored their opponents 129-7 this season.
    “We just practice hard and have dedication,” said offensive lineman Chad Turner. “We’re a close family and we worked real hard over the summer.”
    The ending to the 2006 season is also a motivating factor for the Dogs. A first round playoff loss to perennial power Hawkinsville sent ECI home early.
    “We felt like we didn’t get where we obviously wanted to be,” coach Turner said. “That was some motivation, it was kind of a growing pain. So the kids came out with a vengeance this offseason and worked real hard.”
    The Dogs run a Wing-T, centered around running back Washaun Ealey and quarterback Michael Robertson. Ealey rushed for eight touchdowns and 265 yards in the first two games this season.
    “We practice hard and get after it. Weightroom-wise it’s the same thing, we get after it,” said Robertson. “We got good speed and some great running backs. We have a great offensive line, probably the best in the region. We have confidence and we push everyday to get better.”
    While Robertson, who said Turner is, “like a father” to the team, leads the offense, linebacker Mark Flott leads a stingy defense. Flott has played at Southeast Bulloch and Screven County, and thinks the talent level on the outskirts of Emanuel County is a step above his former schools.
    “We got speed and some big guys up front,” he said. “They’re able to keep most of those (offensive) lineman up so we the linebackers can make plays.”
    Flott is one of 12 seniors on the ECI roster. Those seniors will be put to the test this Friday when the Institute welcomes Toombs County for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Scheduling tough opponents, including a preseason scrimmage against Statesboro has alson been inclusive to ECI’s recent success.
    That, and of course, becoming a family off the field.
    “There’s more to life than just football,” Turner added. “We come out here and work hard to be a good football team. But if they leave here with just football we’ve failed. We want them to be good husbands and fathers and community members and have something more than just this life.”