Pinecrest Sends 12 to Play in College
When colleges across the nation begin football practice in August, Pinecrest will be well-represented.
"We are here to celebrate," Patriot head coach Chris Metzger said in his opening remarks at Wednesday's National Signing Day ceremony held in the school auditorium.
A dozen Patriot seniors were introduced and spoke about their decisions before inking national letters-of-intent to play football at the next level, as teammates, coaches, parents and friends looked on. As many as four more players are likely to be added to the list in the coming weeks.
Lineman Blade Shoop headlines the 2010 signing class with a commitment to continue his education and athletic career at Division II Fayetteville State. The other 11 signees split their commitments between a trio of California junior colleges.
Signing with Victor Valley College in Victorville, Calif. were defensive lineman Daniel Keith, running back Damien Decatur, offensive linemen Phillip Hause and Fabian Wilkerson, linebacker Manny Sheppard and defensive back Darion Hailey. Citrus College in Glendora gets running back Brett Toomer and defensive back Jyhe Utley. Heading to Mendocino College in the northern part of the state are defensive linemen Jake Bebout and Connor Neville and wide receiver Harrison Deen.
Shoop, Keith, Hause, Toomer and Utley earned All-Southeastern 4A Conference honors last season.
Among the 10 former Patriot players that were members of college teams last fall, 2008 Pinecrest graduate Danny Heimrich, of Louisburg College, is moving up from the junior college ranks after earning a scholarship to be the punter at Division II Elizabeth City State University.
Interest from college coaches in Patriot athletes has increased as the team improved from 0-11 in 2006 to 3-8 in Metzger's first year as head coach in 2007, and then to 7-5 in 2008 and 10-3 in 2009.
"No one would have thought there would be a day like this back in March of 2007," the Patriot coach said, harkening back to his first month on the job. "These kids really believed in ripping off the rearview mirror and believed in each other."
During his four years as the head coach at Lely High School in Naples, Fla., and now at Pinecrest, Metzger has been proactive in seeking next level opportunities for his players. Within days of a season-ending, second-round playoff loss to Fuquay-Varina in November, the coach and his staff mailed about 300 videos showing Patriot players in action to college coaches, along with transcripts.
"We try to find them opportunities where it's going to be reasonable financially and there's a coach that cares about the kids," Metzger said. "The California connection came out of nowhere. We've been sending video there for the past seven years and never gotten a call. This year they called back, which is really a tribute to the kids."
While it's "California here we come" for most of this year's class, Shoop, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound nose tackle, likes the idea of being close to home.
"It took a long time to make my decision, but Fayetteville State offered me a full football grant," he said. "They'd like to try starting me as a true freshman, but I'm not going to be handed that. I'm going to have to go in and work hard."
One of his college teammates will be former Pinecrest quarterback and defensive back Josh Scales, who was a Bronco redshirt last fall.
"When I was up there for a visit, I actually hung out with Josh for awhile," Shoop said. "He really helped me get a perspective on what student life at the school is like."
Louisburg College and Georgia Military are the only junior colleges on the east coast that don't include a prep school. California is loaded with them. Most of the California-bound players told the audience they planned to take advantage of the opportunity to raise their grades or test scores before going on to a four-year college.
"The great thing is that because there are so many of them, a coach can go to 50 schools in a two-hour radius to look at players," Metzger said. "It's scary for the parents and kids. Our staff has told the kids we were all homesick when we went away. You're going to be homesick whether you are an hour away or 18 hours away, but the kids are getting an education and an opportunity."
Decatur was expected to be one of the Patriots' featured running backs last season. He was injured in September and missed nine games before returning to lead the team in rushing in the second-round playoff loss.
"Being in California is definitely going to be something new," he said. "It made the decision a lot easier because a lot of my teammates are going with me.
"I love playing football, but education comes first. It's a great opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it."
Decatur's father, Isaac, plans to make several visits to California to watch his son's games. Max Deen, father of Harrison Deen, plans to make some side trips to Mendocino College while doing contracting work in the state.
Bebout moved to North Carolina from the Sacramento area (two hours from Medocino) when he was in the seventh grade. He will be close to grandparents and other relatives.
"I played Pop Warner football when I was there," he said. "I'm real familiar with it. I'm not going to get too homesick."
Two-time all-league wide receiver James Baldwin, considered by many to be the top Division I Patriot prospect in a number of years, recently made a verbal commitment to play baseball at Elon. Trent Fredericks, T.J. Sacco, Darian Harris and Ryan Mullins are other Patriots likely to make commitments to play college football in the near future.
But on Wednesday, all of the focus was on the signees.
"That's a pretty impressive group of kids that just went across that stage," Metzger said.
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