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Each Friday leading up to the first week of the high school football season, the FCN will highlight one player from each team who could be poised for a breakout season.
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On the morning of Nov. 24, 2012, Gabe Pierce and two West Forsyth teammates went to the Wolverines’ weight room. Half a day had not passed since West Forsyth’s 26-23 overtime loss to Parkview in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.
West’s season was over.
Pierce’s offseason had just begun.
It has been a crucial one for the senior running back and West as the Wolverines try to replace a staggering amount of offensive production from last season’s team that went 10-2, particularly on the ground.
Gone is West running back Jake Wieczorek who rushed for a county-best 1,195 yards and 13 touchdowns on 127 carries. Gone is quarterback A.J. Erdely, who added 888 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 carries. They were key cogs in a Wolverines offense that averaged 475.3 yards per game and scored a county record 484 points.
Another cog returns in junior running back Trevor O’Brien who rushed for 800 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
But Wieczorek’s gradutation created an obvious void.
"He was a good player," Pierce said, "went to college and all that. It’s some big shoes to fill, but I think I can handle it."
To Pierce’s credit, he’s handled it before. When Wieczorek got injured during West’s 21-14 victory over Flowery Branch, Pierce stepped in to help replace him. He got four carries and rushed for 19 yards in his first varsity experience ever.
"I was pretty nervous," Pierce said. "But I did alright. It was a good experience. It was a great feeling actually."
The next week against Starr’s Mill he rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Against Collins Hill in the first round of the playoffs, he got seven carries for 38 yards. Against Parkview, he caught a pass for 13 yards.
Pierce’s contributions last season were brief and sporadic, but when the season ended he instantly anticipated he would be counted on more than ever. That premonition sent him to the Wolverines’ weight room that morning after the loss to Parkview.
Pierce and juniors Cole Staton and Kyran Ochocki had been working out three days a week in the morning during the season. A coach would come by to let them in.
"I kind of figured I’d be taking over Jake’s spot," Pierce said, "so just a lot of work [this offseason] getting faster, gaining weight and getting stronger."
Pierce also had the ultimate tutor last season. Wieczorek helped him when he had questions about certain plays and pushed Pierce to be in top shape as teammates in track.
"I’ve learned a lot from Jake," Pierce said. "I took a lot of advice from him."
Now, it’s time for Pierce and West to see if it will be pay off. Pierce knows the past two senior classes have set the bar high and he doesn’t want to be part of the one that lets it slip.
"I don’t want to be a bad senior class and be terrible," Pierce said. "We don’t want to be known as that class. I just want to see what happens and … see how far we can go."