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National

Charlotte's College Of Faith Lacks A Campus But Not A Football Team

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Normally colleges create football teams. But here is the story of a football coach who created a college. It's an online school in Charlotte, North Carolina, called College of Faith. From member station WFAE, Michael Tomsic reports.

FOOTBALL PLAYERS: One, two, three. Tone Setters.

MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: College of Faith football players believed they were finally going to win a game or at least score some points. Frustration mounted as their turnovers piled up. They lost to Limestone College in South Carolina, 45-to-nothing. Limestone College does have advantages, says College of Faith coach Dell Richardson.

DELL RICHARDSON: They have a campus. They have a weight room. They have a full-time staff. You know, they have full-time coaches - we don't. It is what it is, you know. We do the best we can with what we got.

TOMSIC: What College of Faith Charlotte has is about 60 students, mostly athletes. The closest thing it has to a campus is a small room in a rundown church. Students plop their football pads in a corner when they come here to go over Bible lessons and game tape. The games can be tough to watch. The football team hasn't scored a single point against another four-year college. It was held to negative 100 total yards in a game this season, an NCAA record. The coach created the school last year. Richardson has worked at high schools in Charlotte and wanted to help young men improve their lives. College of Faith offers online degrees in ministry and sports management. It's an outgrowth of another College of Faith, an online school in Arkansas, created by Sherwyn Thomas.

SHERWYN THOMAS: You have to be honest, most of them are coming to the school because it's an opportunity for them to live their dream and to play college sports. But for us, the bottom line is we want you to get a relationship with Jesus Christ.

TOMSIC: Thomas helps creates the online Bible classes, and the schools operate independently. There's another one in Florida. The degrees are not accredited. College of Faith Charlotte has a religious exemption that allows it to operate without a state license.

PLAYERS: Ohio, Oreo, Oreo, Oreo.

TOMSIC: On this day in Charlotte, about 25 players practice on a field tucked behind an abandoned middle school with a busted sign.

RICHARDSON: Whatever rule you make, make it consistent, all right?

TOMSIC: Richardson instructs the players and the other coaches, who work jobs as bouncers, mechanics and chefs. Richardson says no one makes a salary here. He works full-time at a high school as a teacher assistant. When practice ends, a religious lesson begins. First- year player Will Boling leads this one.

WILL BOLING: Forget all material things and always lean on God for everything.

TOMSIC: Most students pay $500 a year. The college also gets paid to play football games. It's a common part of college football for some schools to pay smaller ones for an easy win. Davidson College athletic director Jim Murphy says his school paid College of Faith a few thousand dollars for a game this season.

JIM MURPHY: The more we heard about the College of Faith - though obviously a little bit different model - I felt like this was an opportunity to help a local football team get its legs.

TOMSIC: Some of the players say they couldn't afford to play college football anywhere else. For Desmond Smith, this is a dream.

DESMOND SMITH: I love the program. I love being around my teammates, man.

TOMSIC: And Will Boling says he wants to be a preacher once he graduates.

BOLING: I always want to reach out to people, help out the community in anyway I can. I'm helping person. I just want to help people get saved so they can go upstairs with God.

TOMSIC: Some of the players have had trouble with previous schools or the law. Coach Richardson says the school has a lot of what he calls second-chance guys.

RICHARDSON: That's why we work so hard because we want to equip them where they can be able to support their families, but also become good people through the word of God.

TOMSIC: Several players described Richardson as a father figure. He's given almost all of them their only shot at college football. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.