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PREP FOOTBALL: Turnaround season leads Unity Christian to state playoffs

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Running back Collin Mathis feels like something clicked for Unity Christian’s football team in its third win of the season, a crazy 74-72 game against Shiloh Hills Christian in Kennesaw.

That was followed by another win, then another, and another.

A year after going winless in its first season of eight-man football, Unity Christian now sits at 9-1 and carries a seven-game winning streak into the first round of the GICAA state playoffs Friday when it hosts Central Christian at Grizzard Park.

“Since last year, coming out from an 0-8 season, morale was not the best,” Mathis said.

“But this year I think everybody has realized that we all have to work together and just keep our heads up. Push ourselves harder every day so we can get better.”

While adjustments were made on the field, head coach Mark Ackerman credits the change in the players off the field as a big part of the team’s turnaround.

“As a coaching staff, we’ve sat around and talked about that, because there is … not just in number of wins, although that is a huge turnaround for us, but just the attitude and the effort we’re getting out of the kids is really different this year,” Ackerman said.

“Leadership is incredible. Just in the offseason, after halfway through the summer everybody started showing up (to workouts) and buying in.”

There is also the advantage of having a full season of eight-man football in the books; something Ackerman has said was a learning experience. Personnel changes included moving quarterback Janson Slaughter to receiver and rearranging the backfield.

The result has been a more varied offense that has been able to score on the ground or in the air.

“Last year, we were together of course, but this year it’s like a whole other brotherhood,” Slaughter said. “I feel like we’re a lot closer and getting more things done.”

Ackerman said Friday’s game will be a test to see just how far his team has come along since the start of the season. Central Christian (7-3) runs out of the Power I, and runs it a lot, according to Ackerman.

It’s the same offense Unity faced on Sept. 29 against Peachtree Academy, when the Lions were able to be very physical against the run and won 56-14.

“So we know what we’re going to get and what we have to do. We’ve got to stop the run,” Ackerman said. “And if we can do that we feel like we’ll do well.”