Charlotte Christian coach Jason Estep met with his team just a week after winning last years N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I state championship.
He talked to his players about not being content and continuing to work. Then he challenged his team.
Lets do something that a team at Charlotte Christian has never done, he said. Lets win back-to-back state championships.
The Knights (9-3) have been working toward another championship all summer, and so far, Estep likes what hes seen.
Our guys are hungry, said Estep, who is entering his seventh season as head coach. Weve probably had one of the most productive offseasons weve had in the weight room. Were bigger, were faster, weve got more kids in our program than weve ever had here.
Charlotte Christian lost only seven seniors from last years team and returns about 14 starters. The seven they lost were key contributors, however, including running back/defensive back Des Lawrence (North Carolina), quarterback Eric Lynch (Tusculum), defensive end Adrian Robinson (Colorado State) and kicker Wes Medeiros (Norwich).
Its almost like youve got the full puzzle done, youre just missing three or four pieces, Estep said.
Some pieces were easier to replace than others. Sophomore running back Elijah Deveaux (6-foot, 210 pounds) split time with Lawrence last year and will step into the starting role this season.
Elijah carried the ball 45 or 50 times last year and showed glimpses of being a really, really good back for us, Estep said. Hes a little different. Hes a true power back. Weve never had that since Ive been here.
Two sophomores have a chance to start at quarterback this year: Cuthbertson transfer Austin Kendall (6-2, 197 pounds) and John Turley (5-9, 160 pounds), who has been in the Christian system. Estep said both quarterbacks can run, which adds another wrinkle to the Knights offense.
The quarterback and running back will be protected by a large offensive line that includes all-conference junior guard Dalton Gouveia (6-0, 240 pounds) and senior UNC Charlotte commit Jean-Luc Cerza-Lanaux (6-8, 290 pounds).
Were going to be as big up front as weve ever been, Estep said. Were not only big, were big and experienced up there, which makes it nice when you say youve got a young quarterback, but youve got pieces around him that know what the heck theyre doing. Hopefully that will make it a lot easier on him.
The quarterback will also have talented returning throwing targets in seniors Jeb Blazevich (Georgia), Garrett Bradbury (N.C. State) and Bo Hines (N.C. State).
Defensively, what was a inexperienced secondary and linebacking corps last year returns. Senior David Hogan comes back at safety and junior Jaylon McClinton moves from cornerback to safety.
Junior Trey Linton, younger brother of former Charlotte Christian baseball and football star Ty Linton, comes to Christian this year and will play cornerback. All-conference senior linebacker C.J. Nash also returns.
The positions that arent decided have several players competing for the spots.
Were excited. Its such a different place for us, Estep said. We used to really panic on who was going to be the guy. Now we have so many guys to compete for jobs that we just let them beat each other up and whoever wins it, wins it, and its a good place to be. Its taken a long time to get to that.
Charlotte Christian started last season 2-3 after playing tough out-of-state competition. Those early games prepared the Knights for conference games and the postseason.
Estep said he hopes the same will happen this year when Christian plays Sun Valley, Monroe and Liberty Christian (Va.) in the first half of the season.
Weve really tried to stretch ourselves out of our league and play really good football programs, and continue to test our kids, because at the end of the day the first five games really dont matter to us, Estep said. Its the back half of our schedule, which is the most important, and thats what were trying to gear up for.