On paper, the UIL summer practice plan implemented the first of June afforded schools across the state of Texas one-hour each day for sports-centric training. That was definitely a blessing during these uncertain times and hailed by all coaches across the state.
But now it’s time to move a little closer to normal as the Pine Tree Pirates join all other Class 5A and 6A schools in Texas with the start of regular fall football practice on Labor Day.
“We worked the entire summer and had a great time. Since we’ve been back in school, we’ve been doing football during the athletic period, obviously without helmets. Starting Monday, we’ll be going to practice football after school,” Pirate coach Kerry Lane explained.
The excitement level as Lane enters his fifth season captaining the Pirate ship is at an all-time high. Participation numbers are up across the board and the expectation of playoffs are much more than mere pipe dreams.
Pine Tree has qualified for the postseason in two of Lane’s first four years following a successful stint as an assistant at tradition-rich Gilmer.
The acclimation practice period calls for the first two days of work in helmet, t-shirt and shorts. Wednesday, schools can go in a half shell, consisting of helmet and shoulder pads. Saturday will be the first day allowed by rule for full contact.
“Kids do good with structure, but they also get bored. We’re tired of running around in shorts and T-shirts. We’re ready to put a helmet and pads on and get going,” said Lane. “Having a nine-day install and playing a scrimmage is pretty normal for us. The time we were allotted in the summer helped us prepare. We’ll focus heavy on special teams the first couple of days.”
The Pirates welcome back nearly 70 percent of its starting offensive and defensive units. Pine Tree has the luxury of returning a three-year starter at quarterback in DJ Freeman and offensive coordinator Jason Bachman is back for his fourth season.
Under Bachman, the Pirates have averaged 35 points per game in four seasons, including a school-record 423 points in 2018. Pine Tree also eclipsed the 400-point barrier last season finishing with 412.
Point producing shouldn’t be a problem for the Pirates as Freeman is one of the most electrifying players in all of East Texas. Freeman passed for 2,216 yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,160 yards and another 16 touchdowns.
Lane welcomes his third defensive coordinator in five seasons as Jacob Holder is promoted from the safety coach position.
Holder, however, is no stranger to a coordinator’s post, having served in that capacity at both North Forney and Grapevine.
“We’ll change a little bit on defense. A lot of the players are the same. So you don’t don’t necessarily wholesale change. There will be some things that are different. Coach Holder and his guys do a great job playing to the strengths of our kids,” Lane said.
As potent and explosive as Pine Tree’s offense has been of late, the Pirate defense has struggled in surrendering an average 37 points per game the last two seasons.
“Our coaching staff has done an amazing job this summer. It’s been different this year for sure. Everyone deals with problems and it’s usually the one that handles their problems the best that’s successful,” said Lane. “My expectations are high. They’re always high. I think we have a really good staff and really good kids. We’ve got 32 seniors. I expect us to go out there and compete and get after it.”
Pine Tree hosts a scrimmage against Tyler High Sept. 18 before opening the regular season at home to Princeton Sept. 25.