When First Academy of Leesburg wrapped up its 2017 season with a 35-12 loss to Lake Mary Prep, the future of the school’s football program was in doubt.

The Eagles ended the year with just 12 players in uniform — a dangerously small roster even for a program accustomed to struggling with numbers.

When First Academy Athletic Director Don Birdsall and head coach Sheldon Walker attended Sunshine State Athletic Conference meetings after the season, they were prepared to sit out the 2018 season to rebuild. However, SSAC officials had an alternative to keep the Eagles — the league’s 2013 champions — on the field.

This season, First Academy will compete in the SSAC’s “FCS” division, a league made up of six schools struggling for a variety of reasons after subpar seasons.

“The Sunshine State Athletic Conference has grown so quickly, that it needed to find a way to accommodate teams that were having problems with roster size and student population,” said Kevin Scarborough, who stepped in as head coach after Walker stepped down last season. Scarborough is also the Eagles’ boys basketball coach.

“Hopefully, this division will give us a chance to get back on track and build things up again. It’s still varsity-level football and I think it was the right decision for us to make at this time. This is just a temporary thing for us. Our goal is to get back to the FBS division, hopefully as soon as next season.”

Teams in the SSAC FCS division include: Kissimmee Avant Garde, Ocoee Legacy Charter, Winter Haven All Saints’ Academy, Fort Myers Canterbury and Vero Beach St. Edward’s School.

Scarborough said First Academy will start the season on Aug. 31 against All Saints’ Academy at the Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex with about 21 players in uniform. He is optimistic about the team’s prospects for the season, especially after the work put in recently at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer camp with Umatilla and Tavares.

“We had a really successful passing game at the camp,” Scarborough said. “For us, that’s really a good sign, I think, because we’re doing everything out of an old-fashioned veer formation.”

Scarborough credits the positives he has seen so far to his players and co-head coach DJuan Graham and assistant coach Fred Anderson. Graham and Anderson have been longtime coaches and supporters at Wildwood Middle High School — Anderson, in fact, was a co-head coach on the Wildcats’ 2016 team after the Wildcats sat out the 2015 season.

“DJuan and I were best friends when we both worked at The Villages,” Scarborough said. “When I talked with him about the football program here, he offered to come and help out. And Fred, too, is a great man who agreed to get involved to help keep our program alive.”

Scarborough feels the season is already off to a good start, even though the team hasn’t played a regular-season game.

“We won our spring game against (Lecanto) Seven Rivers Christian 18-12,” Scarborough said. “That win and seeing the effort our kids have put into their summer work has already made this season a success. Recently, for example, we had 10 kids show up to lift weights ... on a day when we had no scheduled weight training.

“They’re working so hard to prove that we aren’t going to have a losing season.”

Scarborough expects the Eagles to play with the same intensity as they always have — through the good years and bad — and are aiming for a postseason berth. They wrap up the regular season against Maitland Orangewood Christian, an FBS program.

That game could go a long way toward determining the fate of First Academy football.

“A win against Orangewood would be a great way to end the regular season and get us into the playoffs,” Scarborough said. “It would be especially nice considering we weren’t even sure if First Academy would field a team in 2018.”

“Hopefully, this division will give us a chance to get back on track and build things up again. It’s still varsity-level football and I think it was the right decision for us to make at this time. This is just a temporary thing for us. Our goal is to get back to the FBS division, hopefully as soon as next season.”

Teams in the SSAC FCS division include: Kissimmee Avant Garde, Ocoee Legacy Charter, Winter Haven All Saints’ Academy, Fort Myers Canterbury and Vero Beach St. Edward’s School.

Scarborough said First Academy will start the season on Aug. 31 against All Saints’ Academy at the Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex with about 21 players in uniform. He is optimistic about the team’s prospects for the season, especially after the work put in recently at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer camp with Umatilla and Tavares.

“We had a really successful passing game at the camp,” Scarborough said. “For us, that’s really a good sign, I think, because we’re doing everything out of an old-fashioned veer formation.”

Scarborough credits the positives he has seen so far to his players and co-head coach DJuan Graham and assistant coach Fred Anderson. Graham and Anderson have been longtime coaches and supporters at Wildwood Middle High School — Anderson, in fact, was a co-head coach on the Wildcats’ 2016 team after the Wildcats sat out the 2015 season.

“DJuan and I were best friends when we both worked at The Villages,” Scarborough said. “When I talked with him about the football program here, he offered to come and help out. And Fred, too, is a great man who agreed to get involved to help keep our program alive.”

Scarborough feels the season is already off to a good start, even though the team hasn’t played a regular-season game.

“We won our spring game against (Lecanto) Seven Rivers Christian 18-12,” Scarborough said. “That win and seeing the effort our kids have put into their summer work has already made this season a success. Recently, for example, we had 10 kids show up to lift weights ... on a day when we had no scheduled weight training.

“They’re working so hard to prove that we aren’t going to have a losing season.”

Scarborough expects the Eagles to play with the same intensity as they always have — through the good years and bad — and are aiming for a postseason berth. They wrap up the regular season against Maitland Orangewood Christian, an FBS program.

That game could go a long way toward determining the fate of First Academy football.

“A win against Orangewood would be a great way to end the regular season and get us into the playoffs,” Scarborough said. “It would be especially nice considering we weren’t even sure if First Academy would field a team in 2018.”