PINCKNEY — Rod Beaton is excited to begin his first year as Pinckney’s football coach , and also is a little relived.
“There are so many things going on behind the scenes,” he said earlier this month. Administration-type stuff, fund-raising, you name it. I couldn’t wait to get into the grind of coaching every day. You get a little more focused. There’s not all of these things going on. You can focus on your guys and your coaches and what you’re trying to get done every day.”
There’s a lot to accomplish for Beaton and the Pirates this season.
Pinckney is beginning its first season after its return to the Southeastern Conference.
The Pirates are looking to keep the momentum started by last year’s 7-2 finish that included a strong performance against Division 2 runner-up Walled Lake Western in the playoffs.
“One of the main (keys) for us is being ourselves, making sure we play the way we play, first and foremost,” Beaton says. “This year’s seniors have dond a great job leading in the weight room, on the field, physically, vocally. We’ve got to stay healthy. We’ve got some points where we’re awfully thin and we’ve got some guys who are going to have to come off the field at times.”
But the Pirates also have a mentality that the fourth quarter is theirs, expressed most emphatically by running back Levi Collins in Friday’s season opener. After a 57-yard run in the third quarter, both of his calves cramped severely, and he was forced out of the game for a long stretch.
But, once he returned, he went back to playing both sides of the ball and put the game out of reach with a 49-yard touchdown run. He was still breathing heavily, through wide smiles, after the game.
“Senior year,” he said, without further explanation, and his 175 yards rushing made his case for him.
“It’s ingrained in what we do,” Beaton said. “We had a kid last year who was 6-5, 330 pounds (Adam Seiler) who never came off the field. It goes as a testament as how much in shape our guys are. People understand it’s what they have to do. It’s nothing that hasn’t been asked before, and the kids know they have to step up.”
Pinckney graduated Seiler and Wes Smith from a team that finished second in its final season in the KLAA West, but returned quarterback Jack Wurzer, an all-Lakes Conference selection, and speedsters Nick Cain and Alex Wasyl, who ran on an all-state relay at last spring’s Division 1 track meet.
“Jack has taken a tremendous leap, preparation-wise, in grasping the offense,” Beaton said. “He’s really an extension of our offensive coaches on the field. Everything we’re thrown at him, in terms of taking his game to the next level, he’s been able to handle.”
Wurzer, for his part, is brimming with confidence.
“I know the offense pretty much like the back of my hand,” he said. “I know what I’ll be doing, so I can worry less on what I need to learn and can help others learn, like the 2s (second string) and those coming up.”
The Pirates also returned Cauy Hendee and Jake Pavlicek, who play key roles on the offensive line and at linebacker. Jake Price, a starter as a sophomore, returns on the line, and Marcus Ford, who was listed at 380 pounds last year and weighed much more than that, has slimmed down considerably and is a run-stuffer at nose tackle.
“We’ve got some guys,” Beaton said.
The Pirates will need them as they adapt to a new league. All but one of this year’s opponents are brand-new, effectively. Pinckney last played an SEC team when it took on Dexter for a couple seasons at the beginning of this decade. This year’s roster wasn’t born yet the last time the Pirates were in the SEC, back in 1999.
It’s a challenge Hendee, who led the county in tackles last season, is ready to take on in his usual head-on fashion.
“We’ve got to go out strong,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition, so we have to play the best. The (SEC) teams are going to want to beat up on the new guy. It’s going to be fun.”
Fun, perhaps, but also a lot of work early on in preparing for unfamiliar teams, almost a playoff-like situation where the Pirates will go in not knowing much about their opponents, even from game film, in the early going.
“We had a very good sense of what we were doing in the KLAA,” Beaton said. “For us, (the SEC) is going to be a feeling-out process. It’s kept me ups at night, pacing, trying to figure out what they might do. But the beauty of it is, we do what we do. We feel very good and confident in what we do. We haven’t made a ton of changes. Now, it’s a matter of adapting.”
So far, at least, the transition from former coach Jakob Gailitis, now an assistant at Williamston, to Beaton has been smooth.
“There’s not much of a difference,” Hendee said. ‘Beato’s always been piped up, and we’re happy to have him.”
Beaton, meanwhile, keeps his team moving forward.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “We know that. We have a lot of guys coming back, but we still have to put in the work. We’re going to get everyone’s best efforts in this league. We have to make sure we’re prepared as much as they’re prepared, because people are going to be ready for us.”