Bryce Balthaser wasn’t sure if he’d played his final football game.
COVID-19 threatened to end his senior season before it started, while Pinecrest Academy grappled with a depleted roster size, which left the Paladins ill-equipped to compete in 11-man football.
Additionally, Balthaser would need to appeal for an extra season of eligibility after beginning his high school career at South Forsyth.
Everything fell into place right in time.
“I was all in to play football. I was ready to go,” Balthaser said. “I didn’t know when I was going to be able to play, because of the eligibility rule. So when I found out I was going to be able to play, I was excited and ready to go. I found out I was able to play, actually, the day before our first game. So I immediately went out and played, and it was crazy.”
Pinecrest rolled through its first season in 8-man football, capturing the GAPPS 8-man Division II state championship with Balthaser playing a utility role for the Paladins.
Balthaser started at quarterback as a junior, but Pinecrest had already installed Breckin Barbee at the position while Balthaser’s appeal unfolded.
So Balthaser made the switch to wide receiver, ultimately seeing time at running back halfway through the season after Alex Jeffords was injured.
Balthaser, the Forsyth County News 8-man Offensive Player of the Year, carried the ball 49 times for 622 yards and seven touchdowns, adding eight catches for 98 yards and a score.
“It was weird because I’m so used to playing quarterback,” Balthaser said. “The last time I played receiver I guess was middle school. Getting back out there to play receiver was kind of cool – just getting the ball in general. Our coaches gave me the best opportunity to get the ball, and I just had to make the most of it.”
Balthaser did see time at quarterback, completing 17 of 25 passes for 335 yards and eight touchdowns.
“When you’re a quarterback in 11-man and you’re throwing out routes, you need the room and the space. This year you didn’t have that,” Balthaser said. “The sidelines were 10 yards shorter and it was challenging. Honestly, the speed of the game is different; it’s a lot faster and quicker between plays.”
Balthaser also picked up some special teams duties a few weeks into the season when he began returning punts.
Head coach Shawn Coury plugged him in at punt returner during practice one week, and Balthaser responded by returning eight punts for 270 yards and two touchdowns. Balthaser also returned six kickoffs for 190 yards and a score.
In fact, one of Balthaser’s specials teams touchdowns came against in the state championship game, when he returned a punt to give Pinecrest an early lead over Lanier Christian Academy.
Balthaser ultimately scored four touchdowns in the game.
“The atmosphere of that game was awesome. That was the first game we were actually able to have our whole fanbase and student section there. It was really cool and a great experience.”