The Eagles began to gear up for another region title run during their spring practice period, which lasted 10 days and concluded on Thursday.
Mount Paran was in contention for the Region 6A title up until the final week of the 2011 season. But the Eagles lost to Bowden in the regular season finale and ended up fourth in 6A, losing to Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in the first round of the Class A state playoffs.
“It was a good year,” Mount Paran Christian coach Mitch Jordan. “We could have won the region championship, but we lost to Bowden in the last game of the season and we got a tough draw in the state playoffs and lost to a very good Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy team. The kids worked hard and did a great job.”
Mount Paran’s first two years of region play have been educational for Jordan’s players as they learned how to navigate the challenging Region 6A.
“The first two years of region play has been tough, especially the first year two seasons ago,” Jordan said. “After that year, the kids knew what to do. We have had to compete in a lot of close games and the kids have learned a lot from that. Last year, we beat Darlington, which is a top 10 program, and we lost a close one to Bremen, so our guys know what it takes to compete in a competitive region.”
Those lessons will be put to good use for Mount Paran this fall in a reconfigured Region 6A, which will now include county rival Whitefield Academy in addition to Walker.
“It’s going to be a very good region,” Jordan said. “There’s going to be a lot of good games played. Every week is going to be a challenge.”
The Eagles do have to find some replacements for key players from last year’s team such as linebacker J.P. McKay, but Jordan has a strong nucleus returning.
“We lost some very good players, but we have some outstanding high school players returning.”
One of those players is rising junior kicker Dallas Kepler, who is ranked as one of the top kickers in the nation in his class.
“(Kepler) is definitely a Division I prospect.” Jordan said. “Every team needs a quality kicking game and he is a very good kicker.”
The Eagles are also well-stocked at quarterback, with rising juniors Ian Berryman — who threw for 1,300 yards as a sophomore last year — and Dennis Bell and rising sophomore Jake Allen each expected to take snaps this year.
“We are well set at quarterback,” Jordan said. “All three of those guys are good quarterbacks.”
Rising junior linebacker Keith Johnson and rising junior strong safety Brian Bell — both of them two-year starters — return to lead the defense and pick up the slack left by the loss of Pierce.
Mount Paran Christian does have some holes to fill in the secondary after losing three starters there, though Brian Bell returns to lead the way.
Jordan expects to learn a lot about his team in a challenging early schedule that includes a preseason scrimmage at home against Class AA powerhouse Lovett as well as tough non-region regular-season games against Class A contenders Our Lady of Mercy, Brookstone and Landmark Christian.
“It’s a good schedule for us,” Jordan said. “It will give us a chance to work on some things that we need to learn and see where our team is at. It will be a good preparation for our region schedule.”