Rebuilding. Reloading. Building for the future. In football terms, those phrases describe teams entering a season with lower expectations than usual.
The coaching staff at Augusta Christian could easily use such language as the season approaches. They won't.
"We don't even say those words," head coach Keith Walton said. "We don't talk like that. We know if we do what we're supposed to do, we're going to win."
But a large number of question marks surround the private school power.
Bruce Lane, the school's athletic director and football coach who led the team to three SCISA state title games over the past four years, left to take a coaching job in Texas.
The job falls to Walton, a longtime assistant coach who will take over the program with a 2009 team featuring freshmen at quarterback and middle linebacker.
The changes are dramatic, but Walton said the program is still the same. Walton has been a coach at the school for 13 years and said he doesn't plan on making any major changes to the way the football program is run.
"With Bruce, the way he set up his coaching staff, anybody could bring to the table whatever they thought would make the team successful," Walton said. "There's not a lot that's different now. We didn't change the playbook. Our system is set up so we start teaching to our sixth- and seventh-graders so everyone knows what we're doing. That stuff pays off in the long run."
But some changes are unavoidable. The team lost versatile skill player William Banks, who graduated after leading the Lions to an 8-4 season. The quarterback/tailback/receiver is one of five starters who won't return on offense. Only four return on defense.
The Lions do have senior leadership in wide receiver Evan Wells and tailback Cole Turner. Wells is capable of taking snaps at quarterback, but Walton said that job likely will fall to freshman Tyler Roberson. Turner will move outside and another freshman, 6-foot, 205-pound Sean Sweeting, is expected to start at middle linebacker.
"We've got a lot of talent, but it resonated to me at (last week's scrimmage) that we just need to get everything going together at the same time," junior defensive back Christian Croft said. "We lost in the first round last year, and that's something you think about all summer. I know I've been thinking about it, and it's been on a bunch of other guys' minds, too."
The young talent will be tested early.
The Lions will start out the season as they always do, playing Orangeburg Prep at South Carolina State's Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, the venue for the SCISA Class AAA state championship game. North Carolina private school powerhouse Charlotte Christian will come to town in the second week, marking a rematch with a team that handed Augusta Christian its first shutout in five years.
AUGUSTA CHRISTIAN LIONS
COACH: Keith Walton (First season)
REGION: SCISA 1-AAA
LAST YEAR: 8-4 (3-1). The Lions disappointed with a first-round playoff loss to Wilson Hall.
STARTERS BACK: 6 offense, 4 defense
THEY'RE GONE: RB/QB William Banks, DL Jonathan Gibbs, K Steven Bloedel.
THEY'RE HERE: LB/RB Cole Turner (6-2, 185), DB/WR Evan Wells (6-0, 175), DB/WR Caleb Harmon (5-11, 155).
WHY THEY ARE EXCITED: The team seems to be cohesive under Walton, who is best known as a successful girls basketball coach at the school. There is lots of depth at receiver and defensive back.
WHY THEY ARE CAUTIOUS: The Lions lost 42-0 to Hammond to end the regular season last year in what is typically a meeting of the state's two top teams. It will seem difficult to close that gap this season with Banks gone and lots of new faces on defense.
-- Matt Middleton