Pinecrest Academy will look different this year.
Gone is high-profile head coach Terance Mathis, off to play college football went Joey Kiernan (Birmingham Southern), Ethan Massey (Berry College) and Peter Haynes (Troy University), and the Paladins are taking a break from GHSA 11-man football.
New head coach and athletic director Shawn Coury will guide the program’s foray into GAPPS 8-man football, a move the Paladins made after rostering just 18 players for the upcoming season.
Still, despite the low numbers, Coury expects the Paladins to remain competitive.
“You might say, ‘Well, you’re just a small team.’ Well yeah, we’re a small team with a bunch of hungry kids that want to do what they’re coached to do as hard as they possibly can,” Coury said. “To me, a small team in that sense still leads to being a successful team.”
Massey caught 40 passes for 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns last year in Pinecrest’s high-flying offense. This year, the Paladins will lean on a couple of players to replace that production.
Junior Ryan Bartling will be one of the Paladins’ primary receivers.
“Ryan’s really stepped up as a good leader,” Coury said. “His effort is great, he catches really well, his routes are really good, so he can kind of be that target a little bit.”
All-County basketball player Oscar Lynch will line up opposite Bartling and figures to play a critical role for the Paladins in his first year playing football.
“Oscar Lynch, he’s traditionally a basketball player, so he’s coming out to play football for the first time, but he’s also 6-foot-5 and can run and has really good hands,” Coury said. “We can figure out how to teach him the football part because he’s such a good athlete. Again, he’s another kid who’s instantly picked up this game.”
Multisport athletes will be a theme for Pinecrest this season.
State champion wrestler Mark Metz will play both sides of the football, chipping in as a slot receiver and a rover safety, Coury said.
“Tough kid, phenomenal athlete,” Coury said of Metz. “So, we’ve got some new guys out to kind of help fill some of those big shoes that were left behind by the guys that left, because there are some big shoes to fill.”
Coury feels confident that linebackers Brock Barbee and Alex Jeffords will lead the Paladins’ defense.
Aug. 28 vs. Harvester Christian
Sept. 4 BYE
Sept. 11 vs. Hearts Academy
Sept. 18 at Johnson Ferry Christian
Sept. 25 at Peachtree Academy
Oct. 2 vs. Monsignor Donovan
Oct. 9 vs. Lanier Christian
Oct. 16 vs. Dominion Christian
Oct. 23 vs. Horizon Christian
Oct. 30 vs. Fideles Christian
Nov. 6 at Unity Christian
2-8 overall, 1-6 Region 6-1A Private
L — Fellowship Christian 47, Pinecrest 14
L — Athens Christian 34, Pinecrest 13
L — Whitefield 27, Pinecrest 0
L — Walker 28, Pinecrest 7
L — Mount de Sales 50, Pinecrest 21
L — Mount Pisgah 28, Pinecrest 21
L — North 49, Lambert 21
L — St. Francis 48, Pinecrest 34
W — Pinecrest 55, King’s Ridge 0
L — Mount Paran 21, Pinecrest 14
W — Pinecrest 28, Mount Zion 7
First varsity season: 2004
Playoff appearances: 8 (2004*, 2005*, 2007*, 2008*, 2009*, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Region titles: 3 (2007*, 2009*, 2015*)
State titles: 0
*GISA school from 2004-09
At Pinecrest: 0-0, first season
Overall: 4-16, third season
“Brock Barbee and Alex Jeffords have kind of shown up in that linebacker position,” Coury said. “Like I said, it’s still pretty early, so we’re kind of figuring it out. But from a standpoint of understanding the linebacker part of it ... I think they’ll be just fine in those two inside positions.”
Coury said that between Pinecrest’s expected 2021 returners and the amount of eighth-graders on the middle school team, he expects the Paladins should be able to return to the GHSA following this season.
“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.”