The Pineville Mountain Lions graduated ten seniors from last year’s team. The group included all of the starters along the offensive and defensive lines, most of the linebackers and All-State caliber athlete Conner Ford.
Not too long ago that would mean the Lions were in store for a long season this year. But coach Bart Elam, entering his ninth year at PHS, has built the program to the point where they’re still considered the favorites to place second in Class 1A’s District 6.
Despite being one of the smallest schools to field a football team in the state, Pineville has a group of mostly juniors and sophomores ready to take over in the trenches and an exciting cast of young skill position players ready to make their mark.
“I’m really proud of where our program is. The thing about a good program is it can tumble down if you don’t keep working at it, but we’re right there as a solid program in Class A,” Elam said. “We’ve beaten all of the teams that we need to beat, and we’re starting to beat some teams that we hadn’t beaten in years. We’re getting kids out — about one in three male students at Pineville play football — and our youth programs are doing well. It’s a really exciting feeling, but like I said, we’ve got to keep working at it and get those good athletes to come out and have pride and want to win.”
In the five years before Elam became head coach the Lions won a combined 11 games and never made the playoffs. After winning three or four games in each of his first four years, Pineville has gone 25-22 with three playoff wins over the past four seasons. They’ve established themselves firmly in the second tier of Class A schools in the eastern half of the state, just behind Hazard and Williamsburg teams that have made it to the state championship game three of the last four seasons.
With Hazard in their district and Williamsburg in their region, it’s a tough climb to take that next step. But Elam says they’re getting closer.
“For years our goal was to win a playoff game, then when we won a couple as a three seed going away we wanted to get a home playoff game and win it. The district championship goal was always there, but it was a little further away than some people would want. Now it’s getting closer,” he said.
“We’ve played Hazard’s tail off the past two years. We’ve been in those games and had chances to win that district title so our kids are confident. They’re realistic and they know we face an uphill battle as far as numbers every year. But they’re starting to take pride in that, too, and concentrate more on who they’re playing 11-on-11.”
In spite of graduating that big senior class, the cupboard isn’t bear at Pineville. They return sophomore starting quarterback Tucker Woolum and junior Bradley Fuson will be moving from fullback to running back.
Woolum completed 81 of 151 passes for 1242 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman while Fuson ran for 833 yards and led the team with 16 touchdowns a year ago. They’ll be joined in the backfield by junior fullback Robbie Miller with freshman Jordan Wombles also rotating in on occasion. Lawrence Simpson and Keith Sexton give the team added depth in the backfield.
Sophomore Will Adams, who led the team with 33 catches and 488 receiving yards last year, will start at tight end or in the slot depending on the formation. The outside receivers are junior Joseph Simpson and freshman Nike Mason with Wombles also playing some in the slot. Josh Lawson, Sexton, John Sproles and Isaac Ledbetter provide receiving depth.
The projected starters up front include sophomore left tackle Kevin Sexton, sophomore left guard Luke Kelly, junior center Tyler Givens, sophomore right guard Joe Collett and senior right tackle Michael Jackson. Junior Jacob Shackleford will also be in the mix once he recovers from a broken leg while junior Samson Churchwell and sophomore Manuel Lazano are also pushing for playing time.
“We’ve kind of hung our hat on a good offensive line that started when they were freshmen and sophomores. They took their lumps and became a very good unit for us but we had to let them go to graduation this past year,” Elam said. “We’re kind of starting over with a new young bunch. Those guys are not the big, huge, stronger guys, they’re a more quick and agile group. It’s going to be a different fit than what we’ve had and we’ll do some things a little differently because they have their own strengths and weaknesses.”
Most of the same players will start in Pineville’s 3-4 defense.
Kelly and Churchwell are the starting defensive ends with Givens at nose guard. Keith Sexton and Fuson are the outside linebackers with Miller and Collett on the inside. The other offensive linemen provide depth in the front seven. Wombles and Joseph Simpson will start at corner with Adams and Mason manning the safety spots. Woolum and Wombles will also rotate in the secondary.
Adams will handle kicking and punting chores with Fuson, Wombles and Mason the likely returners.
“I think we’re faster as a unit offensively and defensively than we have been,” Elam added. “We’ve got some skill kids back and nice ones coming into Pineville as freshmen. Most of them are still freshmen and sophomores and they’re going to have their ups and downs. We’ll try to coach them into more ups than downs.”
After an open date this week, the Lions open the regular season on Aug. 29 at South Floyd.
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Pineville Mountain Lions
|2014 PHS Schedule|
|Aug. 29||at South Floyd||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 5||vs. Middlesboro||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 12||at McCreary Central||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 19||vs. Lynn Camp||7:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 26||vs. Claiborne, Tenn.||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 3||at Allen Central||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 10||at Jenkins*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 17||at Harlan*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 24||vs. Hazard*||7:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 31||at Williamsburg||7:30 p.m.|
|* Distrct 6-1A games|