Northwest Cabarrus has a not-so-secret weapon on its roster.
Bradley Pinion, the Trojans' kicker/punter, has become one of the top kickers in the nation in his class and should be a game changer for his team.
The junior will be key for Northwest Cabarrus this season because of his ability to hit field goals almost automatically from inside the 35-yard-line and to impact field positioning.
Pinion put the large majority of his kickoffs in the endzone last season, forcing his opponents to start from their 20-yard-line.
His powerful punts, which averaged 38.8 yards last year, are also a big boost for the Trojans.
"It helps out the defense, so that's how I help the most," said Pinion.
Trojans' coach Rich Williams said Pinion is an integral part of his team. He added that his kicker could play an even bigger role this year, as he plans to allow him to attempt more fields goals after only giving him three attempts last year.
"I'm going to try to kick some field goals and not go for it all the time," said Williams. "I can't promise, but I'm going to try."
Pinion's kicks are also hard to catch, as they're both high arching and spiraling. Williams said catching those kicks prepares his special team players.
Pinion should be improved this season.
"He's done a really good job of bettering himself and getting stronger in the weight room," said Williams.
Pinion attended camps at Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. He said the Hokies and the Bulldogs are his top two schools right now.
Pinion has come a long way toward becoming a strong Division I prospect.
He didn't start kicking until he was in sixth grade, when he got his first football for Christmas.
Pinion and his father, Robert, took the ball out to Northwest Cabarrus High to give it a go.
"On my first kick, I hit a 30-yard field goal," recalled the 16-year-old. "My dad said, 'Hang on, let's try it again and make sure it's not beginner's luck.'"
It wasn't, as Pinion went on to his second field goal. That's when Robert decided to get his son professional training.
Pinion has been all over the country learning the in-and-outs of becoming a first-class kicker, which the 6-foot-4, 210 pounder said includes learning body positioning as well as how and where to hit the football.
"It's very hard to learn all that stuff," said Pinion.
He has trained in Tampa, Fla., with Tom Feely, the father of longtime NFL kicker Jay Feely, and in Atlanta with Jimmy Rafter, who Pinion said helped him improve on his kickoffs.
Pinion now trains with Charlotte's Dan Orner, a former Tar Heels and Minnesota Vikings kicker, mostly during the offseason.
Last season, Pinion was named special teams player of the year in the South Piedmont Conference, among the many accolades he received, which included all-state and all-region honors.
To get to the level he's at right now, Pinion said he kicks at least three times a week year-round. During football season, he works out with the team, but he also comes out to practiceon the weekends if he feels he's had a bad game. He meets with his trainer at least once a month.
Pinion played soccer since he was 4. He was a goalkeeper and sweeper until his freshman year, when he made the decision to focus on kicking.
"I decided that football was going to get me into college," said Pinion.
He added that his time on the soccer field contributed to his kicking abilities, but he also believes genes had a lot to do with that.
His grandfather, Earl Mason, was drafted to punt for Dallas but was never able to play professionally because he enlisted in the military during the Korean War.
Pinion and his teammates will host defending 3A state champs West Rowan Friday. Like all big games, Pinion is excited for the matchup.
Pinion said the Falcons' loss of running back K.P. Parks, whom he admits he had trouble kicking to, should benefit the team.
"I'm hoping I can pin them deep so they have to drive the whole 100 yards to score," he said.
Pinion said he enjoys games against good teams because he can feed off the crowd.
"I love pressure, it's like my best friend. I think I do better under pressure."