SOUTHERN PINES — A second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference.
That kind of thought was nearly unheard of from anyone associated with the Pinecrest football program back in 2006. At that time, school officials were contemplating if it should continue fielding a team or not.
What a difference eight years makes as Pinecrest is looking to make its sixth playoff appearance in seven seasons. The only year it didn’t advance to the postseason during this stretch was in 2010 when the team was ineligible after a brawl during its matchup with in-county rival Union Pines.
Last season, the Patriots posted an 11-2 mark and were 4-1 in the SEC. The team knocked off Laney in the 4AA state playoffs before falling to Wake Forest in the second round.
“Since the day we got here, we’ve gotten incredible support,” Pinecrest coach Chris Metzger said about the success from last season. “Every year we’re between 160 to 180 kids. I think what it’s done is motivated the kids to know that because the kids were out there, hard-working kids, there was none of those ‘oh this guy wasn’t really a hard-worker.’ It’s got them to understand if they work hard they can be successful.”
Metzger added it was a special year for his program to post 11 wins, but understands his players can’t rest on those laurels. They have to continue to build on that success to maintain their standing in one of the toughest conferences in the state.
“The kids are working really hard, really love each other, really responding well to us trying to push them,” he said. “They’re doing a great job, a lot of competition. “We got some veterans doing a great job trying to help the younger guys get up to speed. I’m really, really excited about that. Everybody is just enjoying themselves. Last year was a blessing, it was great. That Monday after we got beat in the second round of the playoffs, we put that behind us. It was great and all those things. You spend too much time worrying about what you did, you are going to struggle with what you need to be doing.”
Junior quarterback Christian Ledbetter is the key returner for the Patriots on offense. Despite losing three of his running backs, Metzger is excited about the players he has at the position this year.
Pinecrest will be relatively young on defense, but will have several players with varsity experience back in the lineup.
“We return our little bundle of dynamite (Troy Roper), but obviously we’re not a one-back offense,” Metzger said. “That’s a position where we’re really relying on Sam Williams to step up. We also have a sophomore Maleek Justice, so those two guys look like they’re going to be the guys that are really going to have to step up. Carson Maples, we’re probably going to take him off special teams and he’s going to probably play some offense as well. He’s just too talented of a guy. A big back we think can be kind of a tempo, game changer for us.
“Really, really, really excited about our defensive backfield. We’re going to start two juniors, who started at the end of the year last year — Brandon Reeves and Keegan Good — at corner. At safety, Zach Martinez started during the playoffs for us as a freshman. The other safety is going to be sophomore Jaylin Dickerson, who started for the basketball team as a freshman. He didn’t play football last year because of an injury. He’s really doing good things for us. We return two linebackers — Ryan Lipomi and Carson Maples — we feel good about.”
Pinecrest will open its season 7:30 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Overhills.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.