One of the top high school powerlifting programs in the country, the Covington Lions opened up the season Saturday morning at the Pope John Paul II Invitational looking to continue its strong tradition.

The 2014 national champions and 2015 national runners-up, Covington has plenty of talent it must replace from a season ago, including all-everything Joshua Bickham.

Bickham never lost a meet in his three-year career lifting for the Lions and still holds four American records and eight state records in two weight classes.

Lions assistant coach Glenn Salter said Bickham will be tough to replace.

“We know there will never be another Josh Bickham,” Salter said. “It is always hard to lose a kid the caliber of Josh that where you know whatever gym he steps into, he is going to win. But we, as a coaching staff, have been working on building a program. Getting the young kids coming along every year and getting them the experience so they can be ready. Now it is their time to get ready. We believe we have a team of young lifters that are going to make us a solid team this year.

“Tyrann Garrett and Shawn Warren are two guys we are looking to for that leadership to help lead us back to where we want to be. We told them both that they are the leaders of this team now. They are the next Josh Bickham.”

Despite the loss of Garrett, Covington returns another national champion in Garrett. Garrett captured his second overall national championship last season and the first since his freshman year.

Despite the national accolades last season, Covington did not win the 2015 LHSAA Division I powerlifting championship.

That crown went to Alexandria Senior High, which defeated the Lions by a single point.

Competing in the 148-pound weight class on Saturday, Warren said the goal is to get back to the top of the powerlifting world both statewide and nationally.

“That’s the plan,” he said. “We are going to try and do whatever it takes to get back to where we were two seasons ago. We know it is going to take a lot of hard work but I think this entire team is dedicated to try and get the job done.”

Warren got off to a solid start Saturday. An early season meet in which no team results were kept, Warren squatted 425 pounds.

Perhaps the Lions’ top competition will come from St. Paul’s. Finishing only three points behind Covington in the state championships a season ago, the Wolves are led by senior Nick Gordon, a two-time state champion.