CUMMING, Ga. — Following a 2017 season without a win on the field, Pinecrest Academy can view its 4-6 record last year as an improvement, but head coach Terence Mathis said that was still not good enough.
“I was pleased with where we were last year, but it had a disappointing end, losing three of our last four games,” Mathis said. “You can look at it as an improvement coming off an 0-10 season to say we won four games, but this program and its players weren’t satisfied. I think we have been working to get to the corner. Now we need to turn the corner.”
In striving for added success, the Paladins have lofty goals this season, including winning a region title and getting into the playoffs, Mathis said. To get there, the Paladins have a mixture of returning talent and new faces.
All-Region linebacker Joey Kiernan will return to lead the defense, with Mathis calling the senior perhaps the best linebacker in the region. Senior Sawyer Huffstetler will lead the secondary as safety and will also contribute on offense as receiver and as a kick returner on special teams.
The Paladins offensive line returns all-region center Peter Haynes and right guard Bill Bear.
Mathis said the biggest question as far as new talent is at quarterback with junior Bryce Balthaser.
“It’s his third year in the system, but at the same time, he hasn’t played QB much at the varsity level,” Mathis said. “As he goes, we go. He is getting better each week, and it is kind of an advantage we don’t play a regular season game until September so we can get him as many reps as we can.”
While the Paladins still have a few question marks on their starting roster, Mathis is confident his coaching staff will have the team well prepared.
“We have arguably the best defensive coordinator in the state in Tim Lewis, and including myself, we have four former NFL guys,” he said. “We are excited about this year.”
While it is no easy task to be at the top of the 6-A standings come November, Mathis believes his squad can reach that goal if they limit mistakes, penalties and turnovers. The Paladins narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last season with two losses by one score in the final four weeks of the season.
“We are not going to be one of those teams that says whatever happens, happens,” Mathis said. “We expect to be good this year. The thing is, we just need to go out and play. We know what to do, so we just need play and we can win some games and reach our goals.”
Mathis also ensures that his 2019 squad will play with a team mindset and with vigor to improve their fortunes.
“This team here is feisty,” he said. “They are going to scrap until the end, and they are going to do it together. They understand that everyone has to play a part and at some point, everyone will play on Friday. They are teaching each other, and they expect nothing but the best. I’m looking forward to them flying around.”