When Brett Hayford took over as Pine Lake Prep’s football coach in June, he quickly discovered his players needed to learn a whole new way of doing things.
Hayford’s players learned something else: how to win games.
The Pride have opened their second year with back-to-back victories, edging Vance High’s junior varsity team 6-0 in both team’s season opener Aug. 22 and beating Winston-Salem Atkins 8-7 on Aug. 29.
That’s a 180-degree turnaround from Pine Lake Prep’s inaugural season in 2013, when the Pride went 0-10 and were outscored by opponents by an average of nearly 38 points per game.
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“It’s been a lot different the last couple weeks,” said Hayford, who spent 21 years as an assistant coach with Davidson College’s football program before replacing Jason Moore, who remained with Pine Lake Prep as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“It’s been ‘Hey, let’s forget about last year, and let’s worry about right now.’ It’s been about believing, that’s the biggest thing. They’re really starting to invest their time doing everything they need to do to be victorious: time watching film, time reading scouting reports, everything.”
While Hayford doesn’t bring up the past with his players very often, the results of the Pride’s 2013 season have served as a motivator.
Out of 10 games last season, Pine Lake Prep was only within a touchdown or less in two of them: a 27-20 loss to Atkins and a 13-9 loss to Gastonia’s Highland Tech. The Pride gave up 50 or more points to opponents in seven games, and 60-plus points three times. They also were held to nine points or less in eight games.
“(Last year) motivates us to push harder this year,” said senior running back Austin Cook, the team’s leading rusher with 122 yards on 25 carries, a 4.9 yards per carry average. “We now feel like we have a chance to win every game.
“When you have that fire in the back of your mind, you’re going to play harder. You feel like you can compete with anyone, and you’re not going to back down.”
This season, while Pine Lake Prep’s offense is still a little sluggish – only two touchdowns in two games – its defense recorded its first shutout in beating Vance’s JV team.
“Obviously, we’re a lot better this year,” said junior linebacker Nick Lamorte, the Pride’s defensive leader with 21 tackles. “Things didn’t work out all that well last year, so I like what I see this year. It’s put me in a position to make more tackles.”
While the toughest part of Pine Lake Prep’s schedule is still to come – the Pride faced defending N.C. Independent Schools 1A state champion Southlake Christian on Sept. 5 and open Southern Piedmont 1A play on Oct. 5 against Highland Tech – the team’s start to the 2014 season has the players believing more wins can happen.
“Our team’s a lot better this year,” Cook said. “We’re learning what it takes to win. We’re executing on both offense and defense. If we continue to do that, we’ll have some success this year.”