CHARLIE BERGMANN: Metzger Brings Leadership to Pinecrest Football Program
In a November 2005 football game in Florida, the underdog Lely Trojans trailed cross-town rival Naples, 14-0.
Lely scored a second-quarter touchdown against the perennial state power it had lost to by scores of 42-0 in each of the previous two years. In Naples' state championship year of 2001, it defeated Lely 85-0.
Coach Chris Metzger's Trojans stayed close by making a goal-line stand just before halftime. They went on to defeat Naples 21-14, making the state playoffs for the third year in a row.
On Monday, the 36-year-old native of Louisville, Ky., was approved as the new head football coach at Pinecrest. Leadership is at the heart of any successful organization from a football team to the largest business or government body. And there are early indications that Pinecrest has picked just the right man to lead the school's long-struggling football program to respectability and beyond.
Lely was 1-19 in the two years before Metzger became the head coach in 2003, a record not much different than Pinecrest's 1-20 mark over the last two. In his first year at Lely, Metzger's squad went 7-6 and made the state playoffs. The veteran of 14 years in the coaching profession leaves Florida with a four-year mark of 29-20.
The annual game against Naples is billed as the Coconut Bowl. Lely quarterback Culmer St. Jean described his team's big win for the Naples News as "a stamp that made us a program" -- just as one can visualize a Pinecrest victory over a traditional conference rival such as Hoke, Scotland or Richmond County bringing a similar feeling to Patriot players, coaches and fans.
"I get pretty emotional talking about it," Metzger says. "It was about a lot of kids and a community believing. It was a great moment for the school and one the kids will talk about for the rest of their lives.
"It was really the culmination of a lot of hard work and it catapulted a lot of the seniors into college where they are doing well."
A striking image of a byproduct of the leadership supplied by Metzger and the Lely coaching staff is provided by a photograph at news-press.com (Fort Meyers) of the 23 Trojan players that signed letters of intent to play college football on national signing day about a month ago.
In all, 25 of the team's 32 seniors are now in the fold, including four at Division I schools, three at Division II, five at Division III and 13 at junior colleges. Previous Metzger teams have sent players to schools such as Wisconsin, Nebraska and Kent State. A 2005 Lely graduate, Wondy Pierre-Louis, is a member of the national champion Florida Gators.
The remarkable success in finding colleges for the players hasn't come by accident.
At the end of a season, the coaches review film of all the games, marking highlights of the players before putting them on disks to be mailed to targeted schools along with profiles of each player. Guidance counselors are a key part of the process that includes follow-up mailings and phone calls to the schools by the coaches.
"I think you can pretty much bank on it for kids in this area (Moore County)," Metzger says, "that if a kid has good character and works hard -- has the grades and a test score -- there are schools there for him."
He and his assistant coaches are upfront with their players about the relatively few that make it to the Division I level.
"They would all like to play, I guess we should say now, for North Carolina, East Carolina or N.C. State," he says. "The reality is you may go and play before less people, but through sports in college you're learning something great -- you're learning about teamwork. What better way to spend time than with people that want to help mold you."
While in the area last Saturday, Metzger attended the dinner fundraiser sponsored by Patriot Pride, an organization of leaders that work to support all school activities, not just sports.
"Saturday night was a great night for the school and showed lot of community support for Pinecrest," Metzger says.
Pinecrest's record over the past six years is 8-56 overall and 2-40 in conference games. The football program received statewide attention last fall when the Southern Pines school considered canceling its varsity season because of low numbers and a shortage of experienced players.
There will be nothing sweeter for those in the community who have never bought the notion that the woes of Pinecrest football are a birthright than Metzger leading the program out of the wilderness.
If that happens, and patience will be required, the perseverance of the brave players on the 2006 team that wouldn't fold the tent, of then head coach Larry Adams and his assistants, of parents and other members of the community that were behind the program, will be seen as critical to whatever unfolds.
It has always been about leadership, a quality that has already been provided by many people in reaction to the dire state of Pinecrest's football program.
"Probably as exciting as getting the right guy, the right fit," Pinecrest Principal Joel County says, "is that this was a staff, district administration, school board and community affair. I mean this could not have been done without the entire school and community. We've come together and made the first step. There is a lot of leadership across the board here."
Charlie Bergmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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