By SAM McGAW
Following a dominant streak in Class 3A, the Christ Presbyterian Academy Lions make their transition to Division II-AA this fall.
The Lions reached the state semifinals in each of the past six seasons, with a state title in 2013 and runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2014.
Last season, they overcame a 1-5 start to finish 7-7 with a 33-20 loss against Liberty in the semis.
This year, they’ll endure the Middle Region of DII-AA, where they’ll compete against Battle Ground Academy, Franklin Road Academy, Goodpasture and Lipscomb Academy.
Ingle Martin enters his seventh year as the Lions’ head coach. He’s amassed a 74-13 record during his tenure.
CPA’s offense will operate out the shotgun with two backs in a no-huddle attack.
Junior Ryan Eledge returns as the starting quarterback after recording 1,755 passing yards, 20 touchdowns (3 run) and 11 interceptions a year ago.
His top weapon at receiver is Noah Henderson. The junior had 44 receptions for 730 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Most of his production came in the second half of the season, as he posted 24 catches for 501 yards and seven touchdowns in the final seven games.
Tucker Duncan (Sr.), Jackson Lewis (Sr.), Coleman Smith (Sr.) and Sam Ellis (So.) will also see time in the receiving corps.
At running back, the team is tasked with replacing the production of James Deaton, who registered 1,107 rushing yards, 185 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last year.
Juniors Sam West and Kane Patterson return experience to the position. West had 270 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2016, while Patterson racked up 144 rushing yards and three scores.
Sophomores Barrett Smith and Blake Ellen are also expected to see time in the backfield.
Senior Domenic Ferrari will play fullback and Bryce McCormick will line up at tight end.
Up front, the team will lean on senior Navy commit Joe More and junior Jacob Stopkotte at tackle, senior Dillon Lynch at guard and Jarrett Matthews at center.
CPA’s 3-4 defense is spearheaded by Patterson and McCormick at linebacker.
Patterson is fielding scholarship offers from multiple SEC programs. He had 75 tackles (18 for loss), five sacks, three fumble recoveries and an interception last season.
McCormick had a team-high 80 tackles (10 for loss), one sack and one fumble recovery.
The duo will likely be joined by West (58 tkls, 1 FR), Lynch, Barrett Smith and Ellen in the linebacking corps.
Stopkotte, Ferrari, Matthews and Sam Leonard could all see time on the defensive line.
In the secondary, Coleman Smith and Griffin Sweat will man the safety spots.
Sweat registered 34 tackles and two interceptions in 2016, while Smith had 12 tackles and one interception.
Henderson, Jackson Lewis (13 tkls, 1 INT, 1 FR), Duncan and Ellis are also expected to see time at defensive back.
Sam McGaw is the sports editor for Brentwood Home Page, Franklin Home Page, Nolensville Home Page and Spring Hill Home Page. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcGaw_.