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THE GRIND: Re-joining football team paid off for Pinecrest Academy's Binkley
Grind Jack 24 071316 web
Pinecrest Academy rising senior Jack Binkley had a breakout lacrosse season this past spring. He attributes much of it to re-joining the Paladins’ football program. - photo by Micah Green

Pinecrest Academy's Jack Binkley grew up with dreams of being a hockey player.

As a youngster he and his family, with roots from the New England area, would regularly attend Atlanta Thrashers hockey games. In an unfinished basement under his house, he and his siblings would spend days and nights skating on the concrete floor—a makeshift net against the wall.

But eventually Binkley's dream would need some adjustments. Living in the underdeveloped northeast Atlanta suburbs, opportunities for organized hockey were rare. Jack outgrew his basement and rollerblades, but there weren't ice forums within manageable driving distance.

“I guess I had to pick something else to do,” Binkley said.

As Binkley entered the fifth grade lacrosse exhibitions were growing. Binkley got curious, picked up a stick, felt the familiarity of the game's technical skills, and the best part was he didn't even have to skate—all he had to do was run on his feet.

For a young but driven athlete it was a perfect match.

This past weekend Binkley, preparing to become a high school senior, visited the University of Massachusetts for a unique showcase. Without a familiar teammate by his side, Binkley had to play a prospect game without coaches—intended to test the adaptive limits of the players—where onlookers evaluated each player. All of the players were strangers to one another.

“You really had to go out there and demand your position,” Binkley, who has played attack and midfield in the past, said. “If you don't own the moment someone else will, so you have to be confident.”

After the evaluation game Binkley was pooled onto a team and had just one two-hour practice with new teammates before seven games over the course of the weekend, all under the watchful eyes of college coaches.

It's the second time Binkley has attended a showcase like it. Last year was his first go-around, and after a positive experience he returned this summer with the hopes of getting looks from college coaches. He has his eyes set on a lacrosse career through college.

Even though Binkley has digested more and more of the sport since the fifth grade, he's made some wholesale changes in recent months that have helped him make the biggest leap. Last year at Pinecrest he played football and lacrosse for the first time at the varsity level after a two-year hiatus from the gridiron. The extra work contributed to enhanced speed, finesse, strength and conditioning, but also a newfound obsession with developing a strong work ethic.

“This summer I've been busy since the first week after school ended,” Binkley said. “It's strength training for football, five tournaments of lacrosse with my summer team and then 7 on 7 camps for football. I've kept it balanced between lacrosse and football, and it definitely keeps me in shape.”

On the football field, Binkley plays cornerback and receiver, which helps him with his fast twitch motions that translate into lacrosse. Last season, he had a breakout campaign on the lacrosse team, scoring 34 goals and dishing a county-best 72 assists.

The Paladins finished just 8-13, but that's a big step up for a program that Binkley helped establish as a founding member. He's been at the school since before kindergarten, producing unmatched loyalty. With so many ambitions, one might think he would have chosen to transfer to a prestigious program to get noticed.

Instead, Binkley has insisted on sticking to his foundation. On a downtrodden, burnt multi-use field behind Pinecrest's baseball stadium Binkley works on his craft, hoping to set an example for the Paladins coming up behind him.

“It means a lot to me since I've been here my entire life,” Binkley said. “I'd like to see the program get bigger and bigger.”

Binkley's leadership on the field comes from actions, not words. For as charismatic and personable as he is without a helmet on, games bring out a different person.

“I can be pretty scary I guess,” he said. “I get into my own zone, focus on what I need to do. I have a guy on me and I want to make him look as bad as I can and make sure I don't make any mistakes, so I have to find his weaknesses and expose him. The rest just kind of happens around me.”