Ben Friend may be the best high school running back Springfield hasn’t heard of.
That’s because Friend is the feature back on the Lighthouse Christian Chargers, a team of homeschooled students who practice on a patch of cut prairie grass off of North Farm Road 123 and play their games in borrowed stadiums.
If you think homeschool football isn’t the real deal, think again. The Chargers play against Missouri public schools such as Knob Noster, Class 1 No. 9 Cass-Midway and Butler. Friday night at Parkview’s JFK Stadium, Friend and the Chargers host Sherwood, a public high school in Creighton.
In four games this season, the speedy senior rushed for 778 yards and nine touchdowns on 78 carries, an average of 10 yards per rushing attempt.
Football isn’t about stats for Friend, though, it’s about being an ambassador of Christianity.
“We want to open eyeballs to the Lord, that’s the point of all of it mostly,” Friend said. “But we love to show other people we can play ball.”
Friend is Lighthouse Christian’s leading rusher and plays middle linebacker on defense, but in the moments between plays and after the game Friend pursues his mission to share his faith with his teammates and opponents.
“Every time you knock them down, you help them up. Every time they knock you down you say, ‘Nice shot,’ and stick your hand out and hope they help you up,” Friend said. “At the end of the game we ask the guys from the other team if they want to meet up in the middle and share compliments for the other team, and then we pray at the end.”
Friend lives in Halfway. Four days a week, he drives more than 30 miles one way to Evergreen Church, where the two-time reigning and defending National Homeschool Football Association champions practice.
“It’s worth it, for sure, but it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time,” Friend said. “All together with driving time and everything, it’s five hours every four days, plus whatever time I spend on Saturday for film. So 22 to 24 hours a week I’m spending on football.”
In 2014, Lighthouse Christian’s football program gained status as an approved opponent for Missouri public and private schools, which opened opportunities for the Chargers to show their legitimacy.
“It’s really great to come in and play against public schools and show them that we can play ball. We put a lot of work into it, too, and we send football players to college just like public schools do,” Friend said.
The Chargers’ offensive line gained size in the offseason by adding brothers Alex and Michael Chroman. Alex Chroman is a junior who stands 6-foot-7 and weights 265 pounds, while senior Michael Chroman is 6-foot-5, 415 pounds. The brothers power Lighthouse Christian’s power run game from the single wing formation.
“We run an offense that’s called ‘super heavy’ for a reason,” Chargers coach Rian Bess said.
As a junior, Friend ranked second on the Chargers defense and 47 solo tackles and with 36 assists. On offense, he gained 1,168 yards and scored 14 times. He would like to play college football. Bess, in his first season as Lighthouse Christian’s head coach, is working to share word of Friend’s talent with college coaches.
“We can do it just like a public school team by sharing film with prospective coaches that want to look at (Friend’s) play or other players’ abilities,” Bess said.
Want to go?
High school football
Lighthouse Christian Chargers (2-2) vs. Sherwood Marksmen (1-4)
Friday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.
1333 S Grant Avenue, Springfield