On the campus of Lanier Christian Academy, the vast majority of its athletic programs are thriving.
Things are going so well, in sports, that even fourth-year athletics director Blake Anderson is in awe of what the Lightning programs are accomplishing.
“As a young school, thankfully, we’re on the rise in almost every sport,” said Anderson, who joined the school in 2018 as football coach and athletics director.
Lanier Christian has been in existence for only six years, and shares its campus with Chestnut Mountain Church near Flowery Branch.
The current school came together when North Georgia Christian and Heritage Christian, of Braselton, merged on the property on Strickland Road in south Hall.
Anderson said with a thriving student population, about 425 in kindergarten-12th grade, that building burgeoning sports programs is sustainable in a faith-based environment.
“As a Christian school, we are intentional and deliberate in developing our athletes to represent Christ on the playing field,” Anderson said.
In 2020-21, the Lightning finished Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools Division-II state runner-up in football, girls cross country and girls swimming.
To be a further draw, for the future, is the construction of Lanier Christian’s own campus, in three phases, in the property adjacent to its current location. Lanier Christian’s athletics director said no time table for completion is yet known.
Currently, the biggest buzz around Lanier Christian Academy is the progress of its football program in its first year under retired Gainesville High coach Bruce Miller. The new coach for the Lightning’s eight-man team had 10 double-digit win seasons with the Red Elephants between 2002-2017, highlighted by the Class 5A state championship in 2012.
Anderson jokes that he tried to scare Miller off when his name entered the conversation for the head coaching job.
“I wanted coach Miller to know what he was walking into,” said Anderson, who spent his first 16 years in education at Chestatee.
However, the veteran head coach didn’t flinch at moving down to a developmental program, which plays its home games at Gainesville Middle School.
Currently, Lanier Christian’s coach has three of his former players in the NFL, two starting (Deshaun Watson and Alexander Johnson).
“These kids are in awe of coach Miller and he’s making football so fun for them,” Anderson said. “He’s able to come in here and run his system the way he wants.”
This season, the football program will be steered by Carter Raulerson (QB/WR/RB/DB), Isaac Dinn (MLB/RB) and Gabe Jaramillo (OL/DL).
With limited numbers on varsity, football is a battle for the best conditioning at Lanier Christian.
“Our players have to play always, not just both ways,” Anderson quipped.
Also, in the fall, Lanier Christian expects sustained success in girls cross country with the return of seniors Ellie Danielson and Krisalyn Henderson.
Last season, the Lady Lightning were state quarterfinalists in volleyball and have 2020 All-Region selections Emma Kate Kalinauskas, Nadia Lulinski and Evelyn Keefer all back on the court.
In boys basketball (Sweet 16 in 2021) the Lightning are led with the return of Jackson Wilson and Luke Winkler, while the girls’ program (2021 state quarterfinals) has seniors Ashley Avery and Lily Martin back this season.
Swimming is another strength of Lanier Christian’s athletics. The biggest name coming back for the girls is Henderson, who won three gold medals at the 2021 state meet, along with fellow senior Ellie Danielson. Girls soccer and baseball programs for the Lightning are also coming off state quarterfinal runs in 2021.
For the girls’ soccer program, the Lady Lightning are led by All-State selection Anna Fisher and junior Lydia Johnson.
In baseball, Camden Hohman, Raulerson and Caleb Moore are all expected back in the spring.
Anderson said that Lanier Christian is trying to make it stand out among other private schools in the area, as well as make it an attractive option for parents who currently have their children in public schools.
Lanier Christian’s athletics director is excited to say that 70 percent of its middle school and high school students are participating in sports.
“We’re trying to create a community and have everyone buy in and keep that going for the future,” Anderson said.