Most offensive linemen don't stand less than six feet. Most offensive linemen don't earn all-state honors in high school.
Pinecrest Academy's Garrison Winter meets both criteria, and he hopes to continue to defy odds down the stretch in his senior season with the Paladins, who have—as a team—done much of the same.
Winter, the son of Pinecrest head coach Todd Winter, is still processing how much his life has changed in the last few years. Before earning accolades as a skilled offensive lineman he was committed to lacrosse, wanting to pursue the sport in college.
With a shorter, bulkier stature, he naturally fit into a lacrosse goal. He travelled to lacrosse camps three or four times a summer, hoping to lock down scholarship offers from academic schools. He even had interest from the Virginia Military Institute after attending a prospect camp there.
Through all of Winter's commitment to the fastest game on two feet, his father was juxtaposed as the football coach—one who had come from collegiate coaching jobs in the Midwest and came to Pinecrest with the intent of turning around a small, humble Class A private school program with little interest or history to fall back on.
Winter brought a military-style approach to the table, which Garrison says coincides much more with the culture of the school—the required uniforms during class, the inability to show up to classes late. Todd, many times before, has referred to Pinecrest as the high school equivalent of a military academy school.
Garrison began to take the culture to heart, and by the time his sophomore season rolled around he realized he wanted to go all-in with his Dad's program.
“I started to realize that if I excelled at something it could pave my way through my college, I could help my parents out,” Winter said. “So it came down to just making a smart overall decision, and I felt like football could be a better platform to accomplish that.”
Winter fit in as a guard, and instantly became a blocking machine for the Paladins. His lack of height, he says, plays to his advantages.
“It's really easy for me to get under taller guys, and they have to bend down a little to lock on to me, so there's no limitations for me,” Winter said.
Last season as a junior, Winter surprised himself after grading out at 88 percent at the guard position and registering 114 pancake blocks. He was named to the Forsyth County News’ all-county second team, in league with Division I prospects from Class 6A schools, and was later named to an all-state team.
He humbly accepted the state-wide honor.
“I remember my Dad walked in one morning and told me. I kind of just went, 'oh, okay,'” Winter laughs. “I definitely get a humble attitude from my Mom, and it helps me stay focused. Things like that are cool but you've got to keep working.”
Last season wasn't just a big step for Winter, but also the Paladins’ football team. They won the Region 6-A championship after knocking off Mount Paran Christian, 28-21, in the final regular season game. It was a moment of redemption after falling to the Eagles earlier in the year, and signaled that the Paladins had broken through the glass ceiling.
“I don't think any of the seniors last year, or me, truly believed we were a great team and could beat a time like [Mount Paran] until we actually did it, and that was so late in the year,” Winter said. “By then, we still weren't as polished as we could be and we fell off, but in the summer we worked so much harder than we ever have before. We're a more confident group now.”
It also signaled that this small group of players at Pinecrest had talent, and Winter started to enter the recruiting picture. He's been actively speaking with The Citadel, which is also where Paladins quarterback Ryan McCarthy is committed, and is started to look at smaller division schools with strong academics as options for his playing career in the future.
The Citadel, of course, is a military school. Winter says he's already prepared.
“I live on a tight schedule as it is,” Winter said. “Going to a school like Pinecrest where there's a lot of structure, plus our household is already kind of militaristic in nature. I have set chores and a tight schedule every day. It has helped prepare me for what's coming.”