Defensive-Minded Patriot Freshmen Make Future Bright
Pinecrest defensive back Jyhe Utley came away from a freshmen football game several weeks ago very impressed by one of the Patriot first-year players.
The senior watched linebacker Jeremy Klimek spend a good part of the afternoon wrecking havoc in the Hoke County backfield.
"I told Jeremy that next year I'd give him my jersey when I leave because he's like really at the next level," Utley said during an early morning workout in the weight room this week. "He knows what he wants and gets it done. I see him make play after play. I wasn't even that good as a freshman. He should be something special."
Utley has five fumble recoveries this season for the Patriot varsity and returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns. The compliment from one playmaker to another is an example of how the football program embraces and supports all of its parts.
"The older kids respect and know what those kids are doing and how hard they've worked," Chris Metzger, third-year head coach of the Pinecrest varsity squad says. "We try to make it where everyone is doing the same things, running the same plays, practicing the same way. The philosophy is that this is our farm system."
Coming off a bye week, the Pinecrest varsity (6-0) and jayvee (5-0) teams are both undefeated. The only loss for the freshmen (4-1) was 6-5 to Hoke three weeks ago on an 83-yard run by one of the Bucks with just over three minutes left in the game. The scoring play represented only the second first down allowed by the Patriots in the contest.
Utley remembered the reaction of the Patriot freshmen to the big disappointment.
"I was there when they (Hoke) ran that touchdown back," he said. "They knew they could be better and they strive to be the best, just like all Patriots strive to be the best. They held their heads up and it was like we'll take it to our next opponent which they did. I mean their work ethic is unbelievable. They have a very focused team."
Coach Mike Francis's freshmen defeated South View 28-0 in the next game, again allowing only two first downs. St. Paul's made no first downs in a 44-0 Patriot victory, two weeks ago.
The defense is loaded with hard-nosed players like Klimek that fly to the ball. Defensive lineman James Harrison, who is a part of a front three that usually includes Zarrick Boyd and Josh McMillan, keeps his eyes on varsity linemen like Blade Shoop and Daniel Keith on Friday nights.
"Both of them are a big inspiration to me," he says. "Most of the time I watch their footwork and their technique, and their pursuit to the ball. I want to be good like them when I'm on the varsity."
Francis feels the overall football program under Metzger is developed around a solid defense.
"The offense has been coming along as well," he says, "but I think the focus has been on stopping the opposition."
One of the things that team captains Harrison, Daniel Harman, Matt Epley and Frankie Painter bring to the program, along with many of their teammates, is a habit of winning. They were all members of a West Pine Middle School team that lost only one game in three years. This season it has been Southern Middle School's turn to rise to the top.
"I knew we were going to win because of the attitude we brought from West Pine," Harman says.
In Thursday's home game held on the Pinecrest practice field, Utley, Shoop, Keith and many other varsity and jayvee players were on hand to support their freshmen counterparts as they defeated Lumberton 16-6.
On the first series of the game, the Pirate punter received a bad snap and was swarmed under by the rush from defensive backs, Harman, Dwayne Simpson and Sam Brower as the Pats took over at the visitor's 27.
Four plays later, Nicholas Lacy scored on a five-yard run and Epley kicked the extra point. The only points by the visitors came on a 72-yard fumble return by Ahmad Smith in the second quarter that brought back memories of the play in the Hoke game. The run for two points failed and the Patriots retained a 7-6 edge.
The next time Lumberton had the ball, it moved to the Patriot three-yard line with a chance to take the lead. On third down, linebacker Brandon Stonesifer caught the Pirate runner in the backfield for a five-yard loss. The drive ended on a pass interception in the end zone by Harman in the closing minute of the half.
Early in the third period, the visitors threatened once again. On a 2nd and 3 play from the Patriot 24, Klimek separated the Pirate ball carrier from the football and it was recovered by Blake Thompson at the 20.
Zach Strickland got an 80-yard Patriot scoring drive underway with runs of 12 and eight yards. Later, Klimek powered his way for 13 and a first down at the Lumberton 42.
Strickland gained seven more before Klimek went over right tackle and then broke outside for 35 yards and a touchdown. Another conversion by Epley made it 14-6 as the third period expired.
The final Lumberton possession of the contest started from its own three yard line after Painter pinned them back with a 45-yard punt. On the last play of the game, the Pirate quarterback was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
Francis was asked what he liked most about his team's performance.
"I think the way they dealt with adversity in the first half," he said. "We had the fumble and the interception, but our spirits weren't broken and the defense stepped up and accepted the challenge."
The other coaches of the freshmen team include Charlie Bradbury, David Branch, Jim Byrd, Ronshau Cole, Steve Craven, Dennis Johnson, Forrest Kirk, Steve Knopfke and George Outlaw. According to Francis, help is readily available from the varsity coaches as well.
"Coach Metzger has gotten coaches from a lot of different levels of coaching and put us all together and it's very cohesive," he says. "I can see where the freshmen feel they are a part of this. I'm very impressed with Coach Metzger and how everyone is held to the same standard and academics come first."
Utley's senior project is about coaching youth football and that is an area that also comes under the umbrella of Pinecrest football.
"Every school has a team, but when we talk about our program, it encompasses everything, the fans, the community, the administration and the parents," Metzger says. "We try to help out wherever we can whether it's giving a clinic to the Optimists (youth football) or at a middle school. We just want to reach out and help make the game better in this county."
Contact Charlie Bergmann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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