Pinecrest Celebrates Best-Ever Football Team
By Charlie Bergmann
Special to The Pilot
Ten members of the most successful football team in the 40-year history of Pinecrest High School have earned All-Southeastern Conference honors by a vote of league coaches.
Ten more players from head coach Chris Metzger's squad, which finished the season with a 10-3 record after losing 41-7 to Fuquay-Varina in the second round of the 4AA state playoffs, were honorable mention selections.
Two days after the disappointing loss, the mood of the players, coaches and Patriot supporters was one of celebration as conference and team awards were announced at a banquet held at the Camp Durant Boy Scout Lodge. More than 400 people attended the event.
"It was an awesome night, not to lay it to rest, but just to cap off our 2009 season," senior offensive lineman Fabian Wilkerson said at the end of the evening. "After the game, we were all pretty down, but we all accepted the fact that we went very far. We were the ones that set the foundation. We set the bar very high for the next couple of years."
Wilkerson showed a knowledge of Patriot history when he brought up a couple of names from the team of 1970 that went 7-2-1, the closest any team has come to this year's winning percentage of .769. The 10 wins exceeded the previous best set by the 1987 team that finished 8-4 under coach Burgin Beale.
"We're going to be the ones like Charles Waddell and Dexter Pride and all those guys that started the program like 40 years ago," Wilkerson said. "In 2009 we've proven we can do such things, like having two home playoff games and winning the first one, and being in the playoffs two straight years."
The Patriots were 3-2 in the conference and finished in second place via a coin toss that broke a three-way tie with Lumberton and Purnell Swett. They defeated Jordan 28-0 in their playoff opener.
The 10 all-conference picks is believed to be a school record. It is an increase from four in 2008 and one each in 2006 and 2007.
Phillip Hause and T.J. Sacco earned all-league honors from the Patriot offensive line. Wide receiver James Baldwin III, tight end Darian Harris and running back Bret Toomer were other members of the offensive unit recognized.
Punter, place kicker and defensive back Dillon Maples was named for the second time. Others recognized from the Patriot defense were linebacker Trent Fredericks, linemen Daniel Keith and Blade Shoop and defensive back Jyhe Utley.
Conference Player of the Year honors went to Richmond Senior quarterback Tedarrius Wiley (offense) and Lumberton linebacker Jalaquon McNeill (defense). Paul Hoggard of Richmond was voted coach of the year.
Honorable mention selections from the Pinecrest offense that helped produce 398 points include linemen Wilkerson and Tucker Lee, quarterback Ben Williams, running backs Damion Pride and Raphael Alston and wide receiver Kyle Ocheltree. Defensive players picked were tackle Jake Bebout, linebacker Manny Sheppard and defensive backs Darion Hailey and Hunter Ocheltree.
Many of the 33 Patriot seniors were members of the freshmen team in 2006 when the varsity went 0-11. The team improved from 3-8 to 7-5 in Metzger's first two seasons as head coach.
"We went 0-11 and everybody was thinking, where am I going to transfer to," Wilkerson recalled. "All of a sudden, this new coach comes here from Lely (Fla.) with a great game plan for us. We all bought into it and laid the foundation for Pinecrest football."
Harris admitted to wondering what he was getting into when he learned before Metzger's arrival in March of 2007 that the new coach would be holding voluntary early morning workouts before first period classes.
"I consider myself a hard worker, but I was skeptical because that wasn't the culture at our school," he said. "Even when we were freshmen, we could see the talent. It was raw, and when the new coaches came in they really sharpened us up."
In the locker room aftermath of the loss to Fuquay-Varina, it didn't take most of the players long to turn their attention away from the game and to the relationships with teammates and coaches that meant so much to them.
"That's a testament to how much we love our teammates," Harris said. "After all the hard work and dedication we put in, something just clicked, all the emotions and how much I love everyone I played next to. They helped me grow, and we grew as a team. I think it showed this season."
One of the bright spots of the final game was the performance by running back Damien Decatur, one of the senior team captains. Seeing his first action since mid-September because of a foot injury, he gained 65 yards on 12 carries, all in the second half.
"While I was out, I still tried to be the best captain I could for all these guys," he said. "I'm never going to forget these guys and all the memories. Even the bad days are good memories now."
The Ruby Award, which goes to a player from Pinecrest, North Moore and Union Pines, went to senior running back Riley Papp in recognition of his hard work on behalf of the team. Senior quarterback Alex Patti earned the Academic Achievement Award.
Other awards handed out by a vote of the players included: Special Forces Award - Kevin Bean and Darian Harris; Patriot Award - Fabian Wilkerson and Damien Decatur; Offensive MVP - James Baldwin and Bret Toomer; Defensive MVP - Trent Fredericks; Team MVP - Ben Williams.
All of the freshmen, junior varsity and varsity players were introduced and spoken about by their respective coaches.
In his 18th year as a coach, Metzger describes every team as special.
"It's just a blessing the lessons you learn when you work hard with people and are around them as much as we are," he said. "You just cherish all the great times. It's not as much the wins and losses as the times."
And what was it about this particular team that he will most remember?
"I think more than anything about these guys was their ability to persevere, their stick-with-itness," he said. "Their cohesiveness with each other and the coaches was pretty incredible."
Contact Charlie Bergmann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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