Pine Lake Prep’s first-year head coach Austin Trotter is implementing strategic approaches contrasting from what the Pride offense and defense are accustomed to.
“Things will be a little different than years past out here,” Trotter said.
For the last five seasons, Pine Lake Prep used an offense mostly with Wing T and Power I formations focused primarily on its run game. Trotter’s blueprint will feature a new style by opening up the offense and throwing the ball more.
Trotter brings with him experience from being an assistant coach at Lake Norman Charter where his teams needed to find a niche when facing physically superior teams.
Though the Pride plan to throw the ball about 40 times a game, they came into their initial practice without a clear starter at quarterback.
Competing at the position are sophomore Brendan Miller and freshman Nick Reid. More of a drop-back quarterback, Miller excels sitting in the pocket. Reid is a more mobile quarterback who started for Pine Lake Prep’s middle school team last season. If he doesn’t start at quarterback, his athletic ability will enable the Pride to use him at wide receiver and corner.
Rather than continue to pound the ball into A-gaps and B-gaps with an undersized offensive line, the spread offense fits more with the Pride’s types of players and has drawn more students to join the team. Trotter praised his players for adopting the new system.
“Our guys are smart kids who play really hard and understand the game,” the coach said. “Physically they may not be on the same level as other teams we play, but I think we have some things that we can counteract that with.”
Pine Lake Prep returns two starters on offense and two on defense. With eight seniors on its roster, the Pride will rely heavily on its juniors and sophomores with some freshmen likely to play or even start.
“We will start developing some of these guys that are younger. We’re still learning, and I think the future is really bright,” Trotter said.
Despite its commitment to pass, the Pride’s multi-faceted offense will need to establish a run game to succeed and will be highlighted by five-foot-ten, 215-pound running back Zach Morlidge. As a two-time all-conference linebacker who will play both positions, the senior plans to bring his linebacker mentality to the running back spot.
“Our goal is to spread it out and throw the ball, and when teams put five in the box we turn to our 215-pound running back and let him run people over,” Trotter said. “When they start crowding it back in there, we’ll open the pass game back up. We’ve got a good offensive line, and I think we can do that.”
The team’s approach to achieving balance will not be based on its ratio of running plays to passing plays, but rather on getting the ball to an assortment of players.
“You can’t key on one guy carrying the ball 30 times a game,” Trotter said. “We’re going to have a lot of guys involved and a lot of moving parts, and try to get as many of these guys on the field playing as we can.”
The Pride defense will focus on speed. With high school football’s proliferation of 3-wide and 4-wide formations and triple option plays, the Pride plan to sacrifice size for speed enabling its defensive players to get to the edge. It will use a four-man front. And with its outside linebackers getting into space and playing roles similar to strong safeties, it will operate as a 4-1-6 dime package.
“I think that fits well with the top players we have. Our defensive line is going to be a little undersized but they’re going to be quicker, they’re going to penetrate, they’re going to disrupt the backfield,” Trotter said.
Pine Lake Prep finished 4-7 last season going 1-6 in the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference. The team will open its season Aug. 23 against Quality Education Academy.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Zach Morlidge: The senior Morlidge will fulfill a leadership role, be the team’s primary running back, and anchor the defense at linebacker. “Hopefully people are looking up to me,” he said. “I’m trying to set an example for the future generation of players and because of the new coaching staff.”
Reggie Sidberry: A junior, Sidberry will be a central component of the defensive and offensive lines at his defensive end and left tackle positions. “I’m an older guy so I’m trying to be a leader and get everyone ready to play,” Sidberry said. “I try to help everyone know their position and what they’re doing so we can get the play right. We’re going to be a good team this year, so I’m hoping everything works out.”
Sam Cornacchione: A junior with two years of varsity experience, Cornacchione will play strong safety and be a key target of the Pride passing attack. “I’ll be more of a leader this year. I want to set an example for the younger players,” Cornacchione said.