Drake Baker

File / For Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. Drake Baker announced on Twitter last week he would be reclassifying and attending USA Academy next season. Baker was a starter for Holtville during the 2019 season.

Things are going along a lot better than expected, according to USA Academy founder Dustin DeVaughn.

The new prep school, which is opening in Coosada and is scheduled to be playing football beginning in August, has begun classes without too many hiccups. Classes began last Tuesday both at the school’s temporary office in Wetumpka and online.

“It’s going really good,” DeVaughn said. “We’ve got six students here at the office now and we have students in several states taking classes online. Our head of school has been tackling little stuff here and there. You’re never fully prepared until something begins, but it’s been nothing out of the ordinary.”

Dr. Nicole Ivey has been named the head of school, according to DeVaughn. Ivey is the former principal of LEAD Academy, Montgomery’s first charter school. According to an article from WSFA, she was terminated by the board of directors. DeVaughn said Ivey has an active lawsuit against LEAD for wrongful termination and he is completely satisfied with Ivey’s work ethic.

“We interviewed several people and she was the most knowledgeable about making sure our students had a pathway to following NCAA guidelines,” DeVaughn said. “She is a by-the-book girl, which is what I like.”

Teachers and tutors are in and out based on students’ needs, according to DeVaughn. The only confirmed student is Holtville’s Drake Baker.

Baker was in his senior year at Holtville but announced last Wednesday via Twitter he will be continuing his high school journey at USA Academy.

“I cannot be grateful enough for coach (Jason) Franklin and the Holtville Bulldog family for all the love and support during my bumpy journey,” Baker wrote on Twitter. “I look forward to working hard in the classroom and on the field as I pursue my next level of academics and sports.”

In order to have another year of eligibility, Baker will have to apply for reclassification through the NFHS. DeVaughn said based on hardships — Baker was injured most of his junior year and some of his senior year — Baker should be granted reclassification.

Over the last several weeks, USA Academy has also hired Kenyatta Watson as the director of football operations and Jeff Kent as the defensive coordinator. Watson will be in charge of communicating with colleges during the recruiting process, handling the schedule and running overall operations on the football side. Kent has worked for high schools in Georgia for many years, including under Rush Propst, who was announced as USA’s head coach in early January.

“Coaches will report on Feb. 3 and will start being here full time,” DeVaughn said.

As for the schedule, USA Academy has been released its schedule one day at a time on social media. So far, it has announced it will open against Riverside Academy out of Canada on Aug. 22 followed by Clearwater (Florida) Academy International on Aug. 29; Our Lady of Good Counsel (Maryland) on Sept. 4; at St. Peter’s Prep (New Jersey) on Sept. 11; and Deerfield Beach (Florida) on Sept. 19.

DeVaughn said it’s possible USA will schedule more than 10 games but he remains committed to not playing games on Friday nights in Coosada so as not to interfere with the local high school teams.

“All games have been scheduled around Friday night lights and we’ve done as good a job as we can within the local market to try to not be disruptive,” DeVaughn said. “We have a lot of respect for our local coaches. We’re still evaluating video from hundreds of players we have had submit requests (to be recruited). We want it to be the best fit for the student-athlete, but we’re not doing any recruiting locally.”

The plans for the facilities are still being kept rather quiet. DeVaughn said, “our backup plan has now been expedited” but would not comment further on what those plans were. He said by the second week in February, he should be able to release more details on what’s being done at least from a temporary perspective.

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.