PHOTO: CPA RB Kane Patterson (4) is committed to Ohio State and is likely to be one of the state’s top perfomers in 2018. / KINDELL BUCHANAN
By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
Competing for state championships has become the expectation for the Christ Presbyterian Academy football program.
Though, don’t expect this veteran team to make plans for December too early.
After a 7-7 season in 2016, the Lions took a step in the right direction last year by winning 10 games, before falling to Notre Dame in the DII-AA state semifinals.
This year’s CPA squad includes 31 seniors and looks to be equipped for a deep playoff run. The Lions have several high-profile college prospects, highlighted by four-star linebacker and Ohio State commit Kane Patterson.
But head coach Ingle Martin isn’t looking ahead to the playoffs just yet. CPA must first get through a challenging non-conference schedule that includes Ensworth, Pearl-Cohn and Hillsboro.
“Every year is a little bit different, so you never know what the season is going to entail,” Martin said. “We’ve got a great group, and our goal is to get a little better each week. We like to take the season in chunks.”
Wealth of experience on offense
CPA returns much of its offensive production from last season, including a seasoned quarterback, a record-setting wideout and several linemen.
Signal caller Ryan Eledge threw for 2,003 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2017 and returns for a third year at the helm of the Lion offense.
His top target is senior WR Noah Henderson, who broke numerous school records with his 1,171 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns last year. Fellow seniors Bryce McCormick and Brett Nabors will also be key players in the passing game.
But, the crown jewel of the offense is Patterson. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and 23 touchdowns before choosing the Buckeyes in early July.
“The thing that separates him is his God-given ability,” Martin said. “He loves playing the game hard and fast. When he gets a chance, he always gives everything that he’s got.”
Several experienced linemen will pave the way for Patterson and senior RB Sam West. That group includes Jacob Stopkotte, Brown Myers, Jarrett Mathews, Reed Stout and Sanders Whiteside.
Linebackers to anchor Lion defense
CPA allowed just 19.2 points per game last season, and this year’s group is primed for a similar performance.
The Lions return their top four tacklers in Patterson, McCormick, West and senior William Horne, who each play linebacker. That quartet combined for 231 total stops and 38.5 tackles-for-loss in 2017.
West will also see time in the defensive backfield along with Henderson, Nabors, senior Payne Trapnell and junior Sam Ellis.
Along the defensive front, Whiteside, Sam Leonard, Foster Whatton and Jack Gregory are among the names to watch.
Schedule designed to be difficult
CPA has just four region games, so Martin and his staff scheduled six challenging non-region games to prepare the Lions for a potential playoff run.
The team will host Stratford (Aug. 17), Ensworth (Aug. 24), Pearl-Cohn (Sept. 7) and Hillsboro (Sept. 21), and the Lions will also travel to Smyrna (Aug. 31).
“We feel like we have a pretty good sampling, and our kids are excited about playing the [non-region] games,” Martin said. “We want to be playing our best football at the end of October and the beginning of November. That’s always our goal.”
Should CPA handle that tough slate and BGA, Lipscomb Academy, Goodpasture and FRA in region play, the Lions could find themselves playing well into November. And that’s exactly how Martin likes it.
“We want them together for as long as possible,” he said of his team. “As soon as the season’s over, you never have that group together again. If our kids grow and learn to trust each other, we [think] we’ve got a really good group.”
PHOTO: CPA senior RB Sam West (9) will help Kane Patterson carry the load in the Lion backfield. / KINDELL BUCHANAN