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Cougars aiming high

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

A state championship was within reach for the Lafayette Christian School Cougars.

On a rainy Friday night in November, Lafayette Christian had the ball in the closing moments with a chance to score a game-winning touchdown and win the Georgia Association of Private & Parochial Schools state title, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Griffin Christian recovered a fumble with less than a minute to play, and it ran out the clock to preserve a 19-13 victory and keep Lafayette Christian from winning the second state championship in the history of the program.

That loss is no doubt fresh on the minds of the Lafayette Christian School players as they prepare for a new season that is set to begin on Sept. 4.

Leading the way are eight seniors who have helped the Cougars make back-to-back appearances in the state-title game.

The seniors are W.J. Bailey, Ben Dixon, Cameron Elliot, Cason Firth, Nathan Karvelas, Kamal Parham, Cade Parnell and Luke Taunton.

“They’ve been there for four or five years. It’s just an outstanding group,” said Billy Bryant, who is in his second season as the Cougars’ head coach. “Hopefully we can compete for the state championship again.”

Among the seniors is running back and linebacker Ben Dixon, who was unable to play in last year’s championship game because of an injury.

Watching his teammates compete so hard only to fall short was painful for Dixon, and he’s ready to give it his all this season.

“I was hurt in that game, so I couldn’t even play,” Dixon said. “For me, definitely, that gives me a lot of motivation. I want to go get it, and I’m sure it’s the same for all the other seniors.”

Senior lineman Kamal Parham said he’s “very hungry” to compete this season, and he’s also looking forward to providing leadership for some of the less experienced players.

“It means everything (to be a leader),” Parham said. “You get to lead, and provide for people. They’re younger, and you try to help them out as much as you can, and fill them in on the stuff I know, and help them improve.”

Dixon recalls what it was like being a newcomer in the program, and he wants to be there for the young players as the seniors were there for him.

“This freshman class will only have one group of seniors to look up to,” Dixon said. “I still remember the seniors from my freshman year. That’s motivating for me to try to help them.”

While many of the players are the same this season, there will be a familiarity on the coaching staff as well.

Glenn Quiggle, who has been a part of the program since it began more than 10 years ago, will provide a steadying influence as the offensive coordinator, and Kevin Payne returns as the defensive coordinator.

“One of the reasons I wanted coach Quiggle to come back as the offensive coordinator, he knew the lingo, he knew the talk, and I didn’t want to change the offense,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to change the defense, either. I was very glad when coach Payne said I’m going to stay, and that coach Quiggle said I’ll do it. He has a good rapport with the students, and he knows most of them. There’s that glue. With this group of seniors, they played for him, they know him, they played for me, they’ve played for coach Payne.”

Most of the players will be playing offense and defense, and Bryant knows how challenging that will be considering some of them will rarely leave the field.

“We’ve told them, we’re going to ask you to give us 100 percent,” Bryant said. “When you can’t go anymore, we’re going to say you’ve got to give us more.”

To prepare for the season, the players have been participating in a strength and conditioning program throughout this summer, and this week they’re practicing twice a day Monday through Friday.

Soon the players will be able to put pads on and start hitting in preparation for a season that was supposed to begin on Aug. 21 but has been pushed back two weeks.

“I’m ready,” Dixon said. “I’m kind of disappointed it got pushed back, but I’m ready.”