Carson-Newman football begins its season on Thursday night at home against Pikeville.

For the first time in 38 years the Eagles start the season without Ken Sparks. The legendary coach died of cancer in March.

Sparks built the program on faith and it stands strong in faith.

His longtime offensive coordinator and friend of more than 30 years, Mike Turner, is now the head coach.

This season Turner is rallying the Eagles around one word.

Believe.

"One of the most powerful things a man can do is believe," Turner said.

"What he believes, he'll accomplish. And when you can get to where not only you believe but you have an influence in believing among others. When a group of believers are in the same purpose then there's a powerful believe going on."

A painting of Sparks hangs on the wall near the entrance of the Carson-Newman football complex, named the Ken Sparks Athletic Center.

"I walk by that picture everyday and the way it's positioned, I know those eyes are on me everyday when I open that door and I'm usually in here between 4:30 and a quarter 'til five," Turner said. "So as I walk by it everyday, I try to say hey I got it today.

"As I got to visit with him in the winter and talked about the visions that he had that we had, the things we wanted to get done, we're on task to do that. It never would be about him, it's definitely not about me. It's about this program. It's about these kids and hearts that are yet to be changed, still to be changed and making a difference in their lives. That's the greatest contribution he ever made, that's the greatest contribution I'll ever make.

"And I think believe is the one word, if you picked a word, what would be the word that would signify your life? What would be the word that would say, this is what my life was about? Then that's a beautiful word to have."

The Eagles will wear special heart helmet stickers this season to honor Sparks.