TURLOCK -- Turlock Christian still wishes for a football field of its own. More important, it yearns for its own campus.
Lacking both, the Eagles work at ways to establish their identity, an ongoing concern for a school that has put diplomas in students' hands for 30 years.
But since 2002 -- the first year Turlock Christian hustled into the football business -- marketing its brand on the Stanislaus District scene has grown easier.
Especially if you win six of every 10 games for nearly a decade.
"Our goal never was to be the Central Catholic or Modesto Christian of the area," former TC principal and athletic director Eric Davis said. "We just wanted to provide an opportunity for our students to compete. They don't have to go out somewhere else looking for it."
It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to find someone more connected to TC than Davis. Not only did he walk with the school's first graduating class in 1980, he served as principal from 2000 to 2007 and A.D. from 2000 to '05. He's also the father of Eli Davis, arguably the Eagles' best-ever athlete.
And, by the way, it was Eric Davis' idea to add helmets and shoulder pads to Turlock Christian's athletic department.
"It had to do with getting the right feel on campus and to have a small school with real school pride," he said. "We also had a lot of athletes after their eighth-grade graduation who would transfer out to play football. We didn't want to lose those kids anymore."
So they didn't. Sticking around were athletes such as Andrew Davoodian, Drew Perales, Davis and Axel Morelli from the great 2007 team to Cody Alldrin and Robbie Smallwood last fall. Taking that corps, and building around it, has become the game plan for a small-schools program that seldom dresses more than 20 players on game night.
Of all the area's successful football schools, none is more understated than Turlock Christian. For starters, it's 0-5 in the postseason. For another, it's constantly on the road. Most home games are contested at Livingston, but the Eagles also have bused to Delhi, Hughson and even Waterford.
Then again, the Eagles are used to the vagabond lifestyle. Their campus, which serves an enrollment of about 180, is located behind Monte Vista Chapel in Turlock. Plans haven't yet been realized for the development of a bona fide school at a nearby property.
Football, among other activities, has filled the void. The Eagles have won two league titles, and many members of the 10-1 team that captured the 2007 Southern Athletic League title remain close.
This summer, TC was the only Division VI school to send a large contingent to the full-contact Competitive Edge camp at Sonoma State University. Winning programs are not satisfied with the status quo.
Rusty Lyon, preparing for his sixth season as head coach, often switches his offense and defense alignments to fit his talent.
"Our coaching staff relates to our kids in an affirming way every day," Lyon said via e-mail. "And we want our team to believe we can beat anyone, any place, even if it means not having a home-field advantage."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.