Editor's note: This story is part of The Daily Citizen-News' 2019 High School Football Preview. Pick up a copy of Thursday's paper, Aug. 22, or stop by our office for a physical copy of the special issue.

Last season was almost like a dream for Christian Heritage School football coach Jay Poag.

The Lions were ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history and held the ranking for two weeks. They also hosted their first playoff football game, too. So now the challenge for Poag is how to keep his players motivated, especially since the team returns 18 starters and they know what to expect.

"Last year was certainly magical, don't get me wrong," Poag said. "We had a lot of milestones, and we hope to use that as momentum to have another exciting year.

"We feel like the steps that we have taken over the last few years have led us to be ready to compete for championships, but we are not going to do it as individuals. We are going to do it as a team."

Poag's concept of dissolving individualism is something he hopes he can say his team is still embracing by the time the season is coming to a close.

The Lions did lose starting quarterback Matthew Neff to graduation, and will plug in sophomore Christian Thomas to take his place. The backfield of Gage Leonard, Solomon Locke and Ethan Smith are hoping to provide him some reassurance.

"It's all about the power of we not me," Poag said. "We're going to like each other, we are going to love each other and we are going to play for each other. It doesn't matter who gets the stats or the touchdowns, because we have a lot of talented kids. But, it has to be about the team.

"I hope that we are totally focused on each other for 15 or 16 weeks -- not the outside noise, not 2018 -- just totally focused on each other."

Another strength for the Lions will be kicker Joe Dixon. The senior is ranked in the top 100 kickers nationally by Kohl's, who takes care of ranking special teams positions.

With Dixon, along with a good mix of other experienced players including one of their top tacklers in junior Ben Williamson, Poag said he knows the Lions are eager to get on the field and unite.

Christian Heritage will again see a tough region with both Darlington and North Cobb Christian making it to the Elite Eight last season in Class A-Private. Mount Zion and Trion also both won at least eight games last season.

"The schedule is certainly challenging, but our kids are excited," Poag said. "I think the best team is going to win those tough games, not the best individual.

"I've seen it before. When the chemistry is right, young kids can do anything. They can move mountains. That's what I want for our kids."

Quick Hits

Coach: Jay Poag (fourth year)

2018 record: 7-4, 3-3 in Region 6-A

All-time school record: 35-41, first season 2012

Region championships: none

State championships: none

2017 record: 2-8

2016 record: 1-9

2015 record: 6-6, lost in the quarterfinals of playoffs for Class A-Private

2014 record: 5-6, lost in the first round of playoffs for Class A-Private

Impact players: Ethan Smith (senior, running back) -- 81 carries for 559 yards and three touchdowns last season; Evan Lester (junior, receiver/defensive back) -- 38 receptions for 568 yards and two interceptions last season; Ben Williamson (junior, linebacker) -- 110 tackles last season; Nathan Davis (senior, lineman) -- four sacks last season; Joe Dixon (senior, kicker) -- 32-for-33 on extra points; 5-for-9 on field goals last season

Keep an eye on: Christian Thomas (sophomore, quarterback); Gage Leonard (sophomore, running back/linebacker); Solomon Locke (sophomore, running back/defensive back); Mitchell Herndon (senior, lineman); Manny Salacies (junior, lineman); Kaleb Shultz (senior, lineman); Trey Kruse (junior, lineman); Ben Hermann (junior, linebacker/receiver); Will Brumlow (senior, defensive back/receiver)

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