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It’s kickoff time for the champs

LAGRANGE – It’ll be a special night for the Lafayette Christian School Cougars.

It’s the season opener, so it’s their first game since they beat Central Christian in November to win the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association eight-man state championship.

Tonight will also be the first time Lafayette Christian plays a game in its brand new on-campus stadium, adding even more juice to opening night.

Work on the stadium has continued throughout the summer, and it will be ready to go when Lafayette Christian plays Solid Rock Academy at 7:30 p.m.

The Cougars held their final practice of the week on the new field on Thursday afternoon, and they’ll begin what they hope will be another championship season tonight.

“Everything’s gone pretty well,” said Nate Shaw, who is in his second season as Lafayette Christian’s head coach. “We’ve got kids that just show up and work, and they’re committed. It’s good.”

The Cougars are coming off the finest season in school history.

After falling short in the state semifinals in 2013 and 2014, Lafayette Christian broke through and won state last year.

It was a veteran, senior-dominated team that included Eli Shepherd, who would go on to become the first Lafayette Christian student to sign a football scholarship.

The cupboard is hardly bare, though.

Among the returnees is senior defensive lineman Josh Shepherd, who could end joining his brother Eli in becoming a college-football player.

“He’s a Division I football player,” Shaw said. “He’s grown a lot since last year. He’s gotten taller, he’s gotten heavier.”

Also returning is sophomore quarterback Landon Whitley, who had a fantastic freshman season.

Whitley didn’t begin the season as the starting quarterback, but once he took over that role, it was his and he led a dynamic offense.

“He made all the difference,” Shaw said. “We should have come out of camp starting him, but you never know. But it all worked out.”

Another veteran is senior Jess Hill, who believes this team has what it takes to win another title.

“We’re not cocky, but we think that we can do it again,” Hill said. “We lost players, but we’ve got new players. They’re all good.”

Other veterans include senior Jonathan Parham and junior Knox Evert, who were among the men who played a key role on lsat year’s championship team.

A bunch of other Cougars who were part-time players a year ago will get a chance to move into a starting role this season.

“I feel great about the new players that we have coming in,” Josh Shepherd said.

Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports

The Lafayette Christian School Cougars run a play on their new field on Thursday in preparation for today’s season opener. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/08/web1_cougars2.jpgThe Lafayette Christian School Cougars run a play on their new field on Thursday in preparation for today’s season opener. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

Lafayette Christian assistant coach Nick Nehring holds the ball as the team gets ready to run a play during practice on Thursday. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/08/web1_cougars3.jpgLafayette Christian assistant coach Nick Nehring holds the ball as the team gets ready to run a play during practice on Thursday. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

Cougars open season with game at brand-new stadium

By Kevin Eckleberry

keckleberry@civitasmedia.com