2020 High School Football Preview: Can the Lions create a 'new normal' as a title contender?

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Christian Heritage Schools Evan Lester cuts up field after making a catch last season. Lester is one of 17 returning starters from the 2019 Christian Heritage team that finished 9-2 and set a school record for wins.

The “new normal” Christian Heritage School’s football program hopes to be a part of in the 2020 season isn’t the one with masks, social distancing and shifting schedules.

Of course, they’ll take part in those new, abnormal activities to play the season as safely as possible amid the outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), but the “new normal” the Lions want to see involves a more competitive aspiration.

“We think this is our new normal,” head football coach Jay Poag said. “We want to be in the conversation this year. We want to win a state championship. We’re not shying away from that.”

That new normal takes time to build, and Poag has done that in his four years since taking over as head coach prior to the 2016 season. Poag became the Lions' head coach after working as the offensive coordinator at Christian Heritage under Preston Poag, Jay Poag’s brother and now the head coach at North Murray.

After a 1-9 campaign in Poag’s inaugural season, Christian Heritage improved each year, from 2-8 to 7-4 to last season’s 9-2 mark, which was a school record for wins. The Lions lost one game in the regular season, then fell to eventual state runner-up Wesleyan after a first-round playoff bye.

Now, in 2020, Christian Heritage believes that upward trajectory is set to continue.

The next step for that new normal?

Competing for state championships each year.

“That’s been our goal since we walked off the field last year,” Poag said. “We got to looking around last year after we were put out, and we realized we have a lot of these kids back. We’ve got a very experienced football team. A lot of them are three- and four-year starters. These kids are another year older and another year stronger.”

One of those returning bigger and stronger kids is Evan Lester, one of 17 returning starters from the 2019 Lion team. He’s also one of 15 seniors on this Christian Heritage team, the largest senior class in the program’s history.

Lester, who has about 20 scholarship offers from Division I programs to play safety, put on some 15 pounds this offseason to get to 218 pounds at 6-foot-3. He will play wide receiver on offense and safety on defense.

“We’ve trusted in our coaches, and we’ve got 100% buy-in, and that didn’t come overnight,” Lester said. “I was on the sidelines in eighth grade watching us go 1-9, and that was hard. Things have changed year by year, and you can see that in our record.”

“This year, the goal is to win the state championship,” Lester said. “That’s everyone’s focus.”

Christian Heritage will compete this season in a region of exclusively private schools. The Class A football playoffs were previously divided into private and public divisions, but the regions in the regular season are split starting this season. The Lions play six non-region games to start 2020, before finishing out the year with four straight Region 7-A Private games.

Should his team avoid injury and illness, Poag likes his team’s chances to make good on that new normal.

“We’ve got to be healthy going into those region games, but I think it sets up well for us to make a run,” Poag said.

Christian Heritage

Mascot: Lions

Colors: Crimson and gold

Classification: Region 7-A Private

Head coach: Jay Poag

Last year’s record: 9-2

Key losses

RB, ATH Ethan Smith

OL Nathan Davis

K Joe Dixon

DL Kaleb Shultz

DB Will Brumlow

Key players

QB Christian Thomas, junior

RB/S Gage Leonard, junior

RB/LB Solomon Locke, junior

WR/LB Ben Hermann, senior

WR/S Evan Lester, senior

TE/DE Riley Reece, senior

OL/LB Ben Williamson, senior

Circled on the schedule

@ Fellowship Christian, Sept. 4

• The Lions schedule starts out tough, with a semi-finalist in last year’s Class A Private playoffs in Roswell's Fellowship Christian.

Heritage, Sept. 25

It’s Christian Heritage versus Heritage, a playoff team last year in Class 4A.

Darlington, Oct. 30

Darlington is a Region7-A Private foe and the only team to defeat Christian Heritage in the regular season in 2019.

Region 7-A Private

Christian Heritage

Darlington

Excel Christian

Mt. Paran Christian

North Cobb Christian

Walker

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