August 4, 2013

Prep football: Christian Heritage relying on experience

Devin Golden

— For Christian Heritage football coach Preston Poag, having more seniors this year is making his job a little easier. And the fact that most of those seniors are three-year starters makes it even easier.

As the Lions enter their second season competing in the Georgia High School Association, 13 of the 40 players on the roster will be seniors. Poag will rely on that leadership throughout the August preseason and into the regular season, which begins at home against Model on Aug. 30.

“I was telling one of the coaches the other day, ‘Last year I had to lead and the coaches had to lead,’” Poag said. “It wears a coach out. You always have to do it when your players don’t step up. It’s a different type of deal this year. A lot of these guys have played and know what to expect.”

Some of those players include quarterback Trevor Brown, wide receivers Will Fischer and Nich Bartley, fullback Austin Lowe, running back Jake Stokes, center Harrison Kranzlein, cornerback Brian Pierce and kicker Andrew McEntyre. All started on last year’s team that went 5-5 but missed out on the Class A public school playoffs.

“I’ve got a veteran team this year,” Poag said. “I like what I see out of these guys. All of them are good players.”

By comparison, last year’s team included just two seniors — Michael McKinney and A.J. Hooper — out of 28 players. The Lions began the season 4-1, with a comeback win versus Mt. Zion-Carroll, but lost four of the final five games and couldn’t enter the top 16 of the Class A private schools power rating system. Of those four losses, the Lions biggest defeat was by 13 points.

Having the leadership could help for the second half of the season, just as it helps during two-a-day practices like Christian Heritage had Thursday and Saturday, when inner strength matters most.

“Any time you go through two-a-days, those days are tough, and you want your team to be mentally tough,” Poag said.

“When you have some young ones — we have a big freshman class — it’s a big difference between middle school and high school. They’ll have to get mentally tougher, and they will.”

Fischer, who made the All-Region 6-A team in 2012, expressed excitement for this season with both he and Brown as three-year starters. Because of that familiarity, Fischer said quarterback-receiver chemistry is as good as it could be.

“This summer, we probably threw thousands of balls together, just to get the timing down,” Fischer said. “Our passing game is looking phenomenal. Our running game is looking great.”

Poag also raved about the Lions’ running backs. He mentioned freshmen Chase Herndon and Amad Tanner, plus sophomore Tyson Cooper, as three younger faces who have stood out through the first few days.

“You never can hit him hard,” Poag said of Cooper, who started at free safety last season. “He always makes the first guy miss. He has really impressed me these first couple practices.”