SHINNSTON, W.Va (WBOY) – The Lincoln Cougars enter the 2023 season in search of history.

Coming off of back-to-back appearances in the Class AA playoffs, a third straight trip this season would mark a school record and with that goal in the sites, the focus is on accomplishing the goal as a team.

“The biggest message is we need to do this together. Team chemistry, culture, all that stuff is so important when it comes to establishing a winning program, so we just want to continue the things we’ve done right and maybe the things we haven’t done right, we want to get better at,” head coach Rob Hawkins said.

After two years of strong line play helped lead the cougars to the postseason, a younger group mentored by those veterans is stepping to the forefront.

“Those guys definitely helped me through my years. I got a couple snaps last year but a some of them still come to practice, help us with our steps, help us with our who we’re going to hit. Definitely a big help,” senior lineman Riley Lanham.

After a potent rushing attack led by Antwan Hilliard took Lincoln to the playoffs each of the last two seasons, a deep stable of pass catchers takes top billing on the offense this time around.

“All four of those receivers that we have coming back, Noah Sears, Maddox Perine, Brayden Edgell and Aidan Rice, they’ve looked great. Four really good athletes, multiple sport athletes and we think they have a chance for all of them to make some big plays for us,” Hawkins said.

There will be a new passer in charge of getting them the ball this year with sophomore AJ Bart taking over for Nick Kellar at quarterback and bringing a new dynamic to the cougars.

“Nick was more of a runner and nick made a lot of big plays, especially in the second half of last season, with his feet,” Hawkins said, “AJ’s more of a thrower but he does have the ability to tuck it if he needs to. Probably less called quarterback runs but we’ll probably throw it a little more than we did last year.”

Despite back-to-back playoff appearances, Lincoln enters the season with motivation to do more than just go back to the postseason.

“Honestly, losing in the first round is motivating a lot of us. Obviously, we want to get back for the third time in school history, but I don’t think that’s the peak for us. I think we can go a lot further than that,” senior receiver Brayden Edgell said.

Fellow senior Gerald Parado does a good job of laying out just how focused they’ve been.

“We’ve been leaving everything out on the field, so we want to get in that playoffs for the third time in a row,” he said.

Lincoln opens its campaign for a school-record third consecutive playoff appearance on August 25, hosting Braxton County.