Pineville enters 2015 with an experienced team that went 5-5 in the regular season before losing to Campbellsville 39-0 in the playoffs. The team only graduated two players in the spring — Michael Jackson and Keith Sexton.
This year, the Mountain Lions bring back an experienced group of players.
“Experience is huge,” said head coach Bart Elam. “We’ve been basically going into the fire with young kids for the past two or three years.”
Elam also said there are no excuses now that the players are older.
“People sat there and said for the last two years this is a young team, and they will be good when they’re older. Well they’re older now,” said Elam. “They’ve got to really lay it out there and show everybody what they got.”
The defense will be under new direction this year in the absence of Matt Shafer. Elam said the team has promoted Chris Murphy to defensive coordinator.
“He’s doing a great job picking up right where we left off in the spring,” said Elam. “We’re happy about our defense.”
The coach said the defensive scheme will remain the same despite the change at coordinator.
“We’re an odd front team,” said Elam. “We’re going to try and get after people and pressure people.”
Last season, the Mountain Lion defense gave up an average of 28 points per game. The majority of those points came in losses against Middlesboro (43-0); Claiborne, Tennessee (45-0); Hazard (42-6); Williamsburg (46-7) and Campbellsville.
Hazard advanced to the third round of the playoffs before losing to Williamsburg last year. Williamsburg lost in the state championship game 28-27 to Mayfield. Campbellsville lost in the second round to Hazard.
On the offensive side of the ball, Pineville is returning a three-year starter in junior Tucker Woolum. He threw for nearly 2,000 yards in both of his first two seasons.
The quarterback had big games in each of the team’s victories last season.
Against South Floyd, Woolum went 8-11 with 123 yards and one touchdown in route to a 28-0 victory. Against McCreary Central, he went 9-10 with 156 yards and four touchdowns. Pineville defeated the Raiders 51-14.
In a 57-6 win over Lynn Camp, Woolum went 4-8 with 133 yards and two touchdowns. Against Allen Central, he threw for 108 yards on eight completions with one touchdown in route to a 35-24 victory.
Woolum threw 111 yards on six completions with one touchdown in a 36-28 victory over Jenkins. He also had a big game in a 23-21 defeat against Harlan Independent. In the game, he went 9-15 for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
The Mountain Lions also return two seniors in the backfield. Brad Fuson and Robbie Miller are likely to play the majority of the downs this year with Lawrence Simpson seeing some snaps as well.
According to stats from KHSAA, Fuson was the team’s leading rusher last year with 360 yards and four touchdowns. Miller, who was hampered with injuries, saw action in seven games. He tallied 130 yards on 20 attempts with three touchdowns.
Simpson played in all 11 games and finished the year with 212 yards and three touchdowns.
Pineville will return their leading receiver in junior Will Adams. He averaged 55.7 yards per game last year. He had 613 yards and seven touchdowns on 39 receptions.
To make it further into the playoffs, Elams said his team needs to break through and defeat one of the perennial powerhouses in the region.
“You’ve got those mainstays in the last four or five years that has played in the state championship,” said Elam. “You have to beat those guys, and to do that you have to match up well with them. I think this year we might match up better than we have in the past.”
Pineville will have a chance to defeat two of the powerhouses in August and October. They travel to Hazard on Aug. 21. They then travel to Williamsburg on Oct. 16.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN