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Football: Pinecrest Academy to play 8-man football in 2020
Bryce Balthaser
Pinecrest quarterback Bryce Balthaser runs past an Athens Christian defender last season. - photo by David Roberts

Pinecrest Academy will field an 8-man football team this year that will compete in the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools instead of the Georgia High School Association’s 11-man ranks.

All other varsity teams at Pinecrest will continue competing in GHSA’s Region 6-1A.

Head football coach and athletic director Shawn Coury said the Paladins have 18 varsity football players this year, which would make it difficult to field an 11-man team.  

“We just felt like with the number of boys that we had, the best thing for them was to put them in a position where we could safely compete, especially all that’s going on with the COVID stuff and everything else,” Coury said. “It’s strictly based off the numbers we have out for football.”

Still, Coury is optimistic that the Paladins can jump back up to 11-man football in time for the 2021 season. If that is the case, Pinecrest would have to play 10 non-region games and wait for the next realignment in 2022.

“They do their schedule rotations one year at a time," Coury said of GAPPS. "So, this is a year-to-year thing for us. If everything goes according to plan – and we’ll decide this next year – the idea is, we have 11 eighth-graders on the middle school team, and we’ll have 16 returners, so then we’ll have a roster of 27 instead of 18. Then we’re starting to make progress with the possibility of saying, ‘OK, we’ll play 8-man this year. And if 8-man is the best thing for us next year, we’ll do it again. But if we feel like we can play an 11-man non-region schedule, then we’ll try to do that.’ The ultimate goal, obviously, is when the next region cycle comes around in 2022, we’ll be right back on track and growing and building the program again.”

According to Coury, Pinecrest’s middle school football program currently has 23 players.

Pinecrest’s varsity football team had 26 players in 2019, but seven of them were seniors. This year, the Paladins have only two seniors: Alex Jeffords and Mark Metz.

Pinecrest was originally realigned into Region 6-1A along with 18 other schools, with region games scheduled against Mount Pisgah, St. Francis, Lakeview Academy, Fellowship Christian and King’s Ridge.

“They’ve been great about understanding our situation,” Coury said. “I really appreciate everything that they’ve done. A few of them have reached out and said, ‘You know, coach, we’ve been there. Just do the best you can to rebuild it and hopefully we see you in two years.’ So, that’s been awesome.”

Coury added that the switch to 8-man football, which requires five linemen and three skill-position players, fits the makeup of Pinecrest’s team, which lacks big bodies this year.

“I know this sounds silly, but it’s the same game – it’s blocking, it’s tackling, it’s running, it’s catching. So, that part’s all the same,” Coury said. “Obviously, you only have to have five on the line instead of seven, and that’s a good situation for us right now … all of our kids are very similar body types. We actually have a lot of receiver-type body types and skill-type body types. We don’t have the linemen on our team that we would need to be able to safely play on a Friday night in our regular Region 6.”

Coury said he is still working to make up the schedule.

Pinecrest joined the GHSA in 2010 under the leadership of Charles Wiggins. The Paladins began fielding varsity athletics in 2004, spending six seasons as a member of the Georgia Independent Schools Association. Pinecrest’s football team reached the semifinals in 2009, but the Paladins joined the GHSA the following season, citing frequent travel to south Georgia schools as a main factor.

Pinecrest is 48-56 in 10 years at the GHSA level, highlighted by a 10-2 record and an appearance in the Class 1A Private quarterfinals in 2015.

The Paladins finished 2-8 last year in Terance Mathis’ third and final year as head coach.