Christ Presbyterian Academy football coach Ingle Martin wanted his team to have hope in the process. 

"I think anybody will tell you, anything that is worthwhile in life takes time to develop," Martin said, an idea that does everyone good to remember.

The Lions are state bound for a second year, and their 2019 path couldn't have been more drastically different than the one before, one that saw them stay perfect throughout the entire season. 

CPA, a perennial state contender, went into the middle of this past September with an 0-4 record, one of the worst starts in school history. 

The slate was certainly tough, and the team was still trying to find itself after graduating 31 seniors. 

But despite not starting at all where a state title-defending team wants to start, Martin had hope his Lions would stay the course and lean on what's always worked for the program. 

"The thing that we've been working for this year, and every year, is the hope that our effort and our attitudes are not going to be dictated by what the circumstance is," Martin said.

"Our only thing that we can control is how we prepare and the effort that we give and the attitudes we have while we're doing it."

The Lions struggled early and wound up with a lot of ground to make up going into the region slate, one that hoisted a then-red-hot BGA, a remade Lipscomb Academy and an always tough PJPII. 

But sometimes, in struggle, there is budding strength. And Martin shared that he feels the team being put on the ropes early might've helped them finish the fight. 

"The hard part with the society we live in is if things are going well, people often don't look at places to improve," he said. "For us, outwardly, things were not going well. So when you lose, things are hard, but it also turns everyone, if you will keep the proper perspective, it turns to 'Okay, what can I do better? How can I make improvement?'

"Sometimes, in high school football, if you don't play stiff competition, then sometimes your mistakes go unnoticed because you still have success. And everything that we did in the first half of the season, because of the schedule we had, every mistake we made was magnified." 

The coach adds that when the magnifying glass is on you, it's obvious to see what you need to improve.

He recounts that every Monday was taken by the team as a new opportunity to get better and work hard to be the best version of themselves they could, even when the results weren't immediately showing. 

"They kept believing, in spite of being 0-4, or 1-5," he said. "That's what our kids faced." 

After their difficult start, the Lions indeed rallied in stunning fashion, knocking off every region foe on the way to a 4-6 finish, a region title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

A clean sweep through three playoff games has them head right back to where they found themselves last December: on the cusp of a second-straight state championship. 

Gone are the 2018 faces that fueled that state run, like Kane Patterson, Ryan Eledge, Noah Henderson and Bryce McCormick, as are 31 players from that undefeated team. 

In are a new quarterback in Cade Law, a stellar target in the air in Maverick Rodriguez and a dangerous rusher in Andrew Whitley, among countless others who contribute week-in and week-out. 

The team once again faces Evangelical Christian School, the first team on their 2019 schedule, to close out the year. They're a much different team than they were the last time they faced the Eagles. 

The game kicks off Thursday at 3 p.m. at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn. 

Even though the Lions look better every week, there are no guarantees for how Thursday's game might go. But for Martin, his team isn't taking any of this for granted, and they're learning a lot in the process. 

"Our kids were consciously aware [during the season] of, 'Are they having a positive attitude?' 'Are they enjoying practice?,' 'Are they able to understand that this season is a gift?'," he said.

"Being able to play football is a gift. And that's really, sometimes, the hard part when things are going poorly." 

Martin says he's most proud of the courage the Lions showed to keep playing hard and giving their all, even when the fruit of their labor wasn't yet ready to enjoy. 

Eventually, they were able to see it all come together for a trip back to Tech. 

"I think [this] is a really cool part of this year," Martin said, "just this idea of this delayed gratification for our kids, that they're getting to see that, sometimes, you don't necessarily understand what the reward will be or what you're working towards because it doesn't happen immediately." 

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