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2014 high school football preview: Pinecrest Academy

Paladins leaning on experience defense in new region

POSTED: August 20, 2014 6:30 a.m.
Micah Green/Forsyth County News

Pinecrest Academy’s Adam Guard (from left), Ryan McCarthy and Matthew Walters lead a Paladins team that enters a new region this season.

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Todd Winter coaches Pinecrest Academy like his players can do nothing right. If the Paladins’ progress last year and the talent coming back is any indication, though, he’s using a tactic popularized by former South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz: convince your players they’re no good one day, and then begin making them believe they can beat anybody the next.

Pinecrest returns a host of talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Ryan McCarthy took his lumps as a freshman in the Paladins’ triple-option attack. Winter said McCarthy’s throwing ability, especially down the field, improved as Pinecrest went 10-1 in offseason passing leagues.

Last season’s two leading rushers, Andrew Wilborn (791 yards) and Anthony Carco (390 yards), moved on. Winter isn’t all that worried—Matt Walters, who is drawing interest from Boston College and Georgia Tech as a defensive end, will split carries at fullback with Greg Varghese. Slot back Adam Guard added 20 pounds this summer and claims interest from Northern Illinois.

On defense, eight of 11 starters are back, including four multiple-year starters at linebacker, three veteran defensive backs and Walters at defensive end. Pinecrest allowed 21.1 points per game last season in a tough Region 8-A that included Class A powers Athens Academy and Prince Avenue Christian.

The Paladins move to Region 6B-A, where they will take on Mount Pisgah Christian, King’s Ridge Christian and Whitfield Academy, among others.

Offense

Winter first implemented the triple-option offense while coaching at North Park University, a Div. III program in Chicago, upon realizing (rather quickly) that the school would not be recruiting big, strong-armed quarterbacks. North Park improved from 236th (out of 238 teams) to 12th in total offense during Winter’s tenure as offensive coordinator.

"This offense really fits our kids [at Pinecrest]—triple option takes a lot of discipline and brains," Winter said. "We have smart kids. This year we have some big kids up front, thankfully, but normally we don’t have that."

Ryan McCarthy (So., 6-2, 187) scored 10 rushing touchdowns last season but completed just 27 of 81 passing attempts (33.3 percent), with four touchdowns to seven interceptions.

"Part of that [low completion percentage] comes from us throwing the ball deep when we do drop back, but Ryan’s arm is far stronger than it was last year," Winter said. "Not to mention, our receivers are better athletes than we’ve had at the position."

If the Paladins’ confidence in fullbacks Walters (Jr., 6-3, 233) and Varghese (Jr.) is justified, McCarthy shouldn’t have to throw often.

"Both of those kids hit the hole fast. They’re big kids and really difficult to bring down," Winter said.

Slot back Adam Guard (Sr., 6-1, 196), another Division I prospect, caught 10 passes last season and bulked up in preparation for an increased carry load. Pinecrest coaches like fellow slot back Mitchell Ojeda (Jr.), a veteran defensive back who had success running the ball as a freshman.

Pinecrest receivers Nick Palmer (Sr.), Sean Flannigan (So.) and Logan Hamilton (Sr.) bring a new dimension to the Paladins’ passing attack.

"They’re all a threat to score when they get the ball. We haven’t been able to say that since I got here," Winter said.

Every offensive line starter for the Paladins weighs more than 200 pounds—also a first for Winter at the school.

Defense

Upon arriving at Pinecrest, Winter shifted the Paladins from a 4-3 to a 3-5 defensive scheme.

"Teams around here were going to the pass. The 3-5 formation was built to defend the spread offense," Winter said. "We just didn’t have the personnel for a 4-3, so it made too much sense not to."

Winter’s scheme utilizes undersized defensive linemen, fast linebackers and constant pressure on the quarterback.

Guard, last year’s leading tackler and a three-year starter at middle linebacker, will be joined by veteran linebackers Jacob Hanley (Sr.), a three-year starter, Palmer (Sr.), a two-year starter, and Peter Nelson (Jr.). Grayson DuBose (Sr.), a former starter on the defensive line, joins that experienced corps.

Walters moves to defensive end, where he will present a size and speed (4.74 40) combination that Pinecrest opponents are unlikely to see anywhere else.

In the secondary, Flannigan (So.), Greg Metz (Sr.) and Ojeda return as multi-year starters. McCarthy played safety as a freshman but should see a decreased role on defense in order to keep him healthy.

Early returns from the unit have looked promising. The Paladins allowed just four first downs in 60 snaps during a 70-0 scrimmage win over Mt. Vernon Aug. 9.

Special teams

Winter expressed concerns about this unit. Chris Birozes averaged 37 yards on 35 punts last season. Alex Brenner made 11 of 12 extra points and 3 of 5 field goal attempts. Both Birozes (Wingate) and Brenner (Presbyterian College) earned college scholarships for their work.

McCarthy will handle punting duties, while Brenner’s little brother Michael (Fr.) and Metz are competing for the placekicking job.

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