For the first time in its 30-year history, the Augusta Christian football team will enter the season as defending state champion. It's new territory for the Martinez team, but head coach Bruce Lane said it's a misleading title.
"I kind of scratch my head when I hear folks talk about defending a state championship at the high school level, because it's a different group of players," Lane said. "We're not defending anything. It's hard to defend something if you weren't there when it happened the first time."
At least a third of the team is new to the roster this season, meaning the squad is looking for a repeat performance - for the first time.
"We want to keep the tradition alive. I don't think anyone's satisfied with last year's championship," said senior Josh McDaniel, an Evans transfer who is one of the many new faces who didn't experience that state championship.
"We've adopted the motto for this season that tradition never graduates," Lane said. "The faces will change, but it's our goal that the results don't."
Those results, a 12-1 overall record, could be harder to duplicate this year. On the schedule for the 2006 season is a few opponents that are unfamiliar to Augusta Christian and the rest of the South Carolina Independent Schools Association.
For their second game of the year the Lions will travel to Charlotte, N.C., to take on last season's NCISA state champion Charlotte Latin. Two weeks later, they'll hit the road again to take on Fox Creek in North Augusta for the program's first game against a public school.
"We are trying to develop more into a regional school in terms of playing better people," Lane said. "We want our kids to experience some things that they're not able to experience in a lot of settings."
That includes a 2006 season experience different from that of 2005.
"We've got guys who are beginning to fill leadership roles who have not had to do that before," he said. "They're starting to find their own identity as a team. The biggest thing is you've got to find the right chemistry. That's part of the transition within your program."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 863-6165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.