By several measures, Pinecrest Academy became an enviable Class 1A football program in the Georgia High School Association in five seasons under former head coach Todd Winter. It has made the state playoffs three straight seasons, won state playoff games, earned a region championship, sent players on to play at the college level and even notched the first victory by a 1A program against a team in 7A, the state’s highest classification.
That status comes to an interesting juncture for the Paladins. Winter resigned to the take the same position at Holy Innocents during the offseason, and Pinecrest swiftly hired Terance Mathis, the former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, to continue the team’s success.
Though the first-time head coach is less concerned about Pinecrest’s past.
“Don’t ask me about last year, because I don’t know,” Mathis said at the 2017 Forsyth County Media Day.
Mathis certainly hopes to maintain the Paladins’ recent success, but the method to achieve that end is set for drastic changes.
The most obvious change will be on offense. Gone is the triple option that became Pinecrest’s signature under Winter. In its place is something more fitting of Mathis’ NFL pedigree and today’s style of scoring – though Mathis and company were coy about what exactly it will look like at Media Day.
“It’s what you see on Sundays,” senior Brooks Binkley said.
What is certain is senior and first-year starter Mickey Mangan has the biggest shoes to fill in replacing four-year starting quarterback Ryan McCarthy, who is now at The Citadel. But Mangan won’t have the same pressure McCarthy had orchestrating the triple option.
Instead, he’ll have as many as four targets to throw to, among them juniors Patrick Sullivan and Mangan’s younger brother, Colby. He’ll have an experienced backfield of seniors Michael Birozes (491 yards, 6 TDs) and Binkley (625 yards, 2 TDs). And he’ll have three returning starters on the offensive line in juniors Stone Brown and Jackson Mueller and senior Nolan Stafford to go along with sophomore Peter Haynes.
Pinecrest is confident Mangan is ready for the role.
“He’s got a great arm, plays baseball,” Binkley said. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows the offense really well. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
The defense has undergone its own systematic transformation, moving away from last season’ 3-5 formation to something with more movement and deception.
Binkley (45 tackles) and Stafford (15 tackles) will be key cogs on defense again, and the unit is expecting big things from junior Hogan Palmer.
Overall, in classic 1A style, the defense is relying on production from many of the same names on offense, a challenge they feel well-prepared to meet.
“I think a lot of us know what we’re doing, and we’re all well-conditioned, thanks to coach,” Stafford said.
Which brings us back to the final and biggest change in the program: the head coach.
Winter had something close to a traditional high school coach’s background. Last season was his 18th as a head coach between high schools and small colleges here in Georgia and the Midwest.
Mathis has coached sparingly, most notably serving as offensive coordinator at Savannah State University in 2011 and 2012, and most recently helping to coach wide receivers at Lambert High School last season, but never as the one in charge.
Of course, Mathis has his football acumen from his successful playing career, but he also has a keen sense of how coaches and players best connect in today’s game.
“We have a lot of fun,” Mathis said. “That first 20-30 minutes of practice, music is blasting, and we’re stretching and we’re going through individual and we’re having a good time. They’re laughing at me because I’m trying to sing and I’m trying to dance. ...
“But when the music turns off it’s time to go to work. It’s real business.”
First varsity season: 2004
Playoff appearances: 6 (2004*, 2005*, 2007*, 2008*, 2009*, 2014**, 2015**, 2016**) Region titles: 3 (2007*, 2009*, 2015**)
State titles: none
* GISA ** GHSA
At Pinecrest: 0-0, first season.
Overall: 0-0, first season.
All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 25 at South Forsyth
Sept. 1 at Discovery
Sept. 15 vs. Walker*
Sept. 22 vs. Mount Pisgah*
Sept. 29 at Mount Paran*
Oct. 6 at King’s Ridge*
Oct. 13 vs. Fellowship Christian*
Oct. 20 at Whitefield Academy*
Oct. 27 vs. St. Francis*
Nov. 3 Region 6-1A crossover
* Region 6-1A, Div. B game