The Pine Forest Eagles were likely the youngest squad around last year, and it was apparent in close games as the Eagles watched a 2-0 start spiral into a 3-7 finish.
But Pine Forest’s athleticism was unmissable and this year, the Eagles will return that athletic ability, paired with added experience in an effort to make a run for the District 1-6A title in a four-team district.
The Eagles received saddening news during the off season, as head coach Jerry Pollard had to temporarily step away from coaching due to a medical condition just months before the start of his 30th season with Pine Forest — his 27th as head football coach.
But the Eagles have used the incident as motivation, and under interim coach Artie Davis — who began coaching at Pine Forest in 1995-2000, and returned in 2005 — the desire to win has only increased for the Eagles.
“Coach Pollard is the head coach of this football team… I am stepping in and trying to carry on the way he would,” Davis said. “(Pollard) is one of my best friends, and we just miss him. We are ready for him to come back, especially the team.”
Davis said that the Eagles focused on adding size in the off season and are currently looking for increased leadership.
“We’ve got a whole lot of speed, but not a lot of size,” said Davis, who coached at Pine Forest from 1995-2000, and started again in 2005. “The thing we are looking for is team leadership. I was here in 2000 when we won the state title and in 2006 when we played in the state title game. That (leadership) that those teams had is what we are missing right now.”
Like most teams in the PNJ-coverage area, the Eagles will adapt to a new district format this season and will compete against Tate, Washington and Escambia for district honors.
“Things have changed, but we are still playing teams that we have in the past,” Davis said. “Pace has always been such a great rivalry for us. Coach Lindsey does such a great job over there. Sometimes, I think our guys like playing there more than they do here.
“But the teams in our district are all good teams… anybody could win it. It’s all about who’s playing good at the right time.”
13 in 13 series
•Saturday, Aug. 8: Catholic Crusaders
•Sunday, Aug. 9: Escambia Gators
•Monday, Aug. 10: Gulf Breeze Dolphins
•Tuesday, Aug. 11: Jay Royals
•Wednesday, Aug. 12: Milton Panthers
•Thursday, Aug. 13: Navarre Raiders
•Friday, Aug. 14: Northview Chiefs
•Saturday, Aug, 15: Pace Patriots
•Sunday, Aug. 16: Pensacola Tigers
•Today: Pine Forest Eagles
•Tuesday, Aug. 18: Tate Aggies
•Wednesday, Aug. 19: Washington Wildcats
•Thursday, Aug. 20: West Florida Jaguars
•Sunday, Aug. 23: Super Seniors
Pine Forest Eagles
(3-7 last season)
at Pensacola High
at Gulf Breeze
at Trinity Christian
*—Denotes District 1-6A game.
Aug. 29 beat East Gadsen 36-0; Sept. 5 beat Catholic 36-34; Sept. 12 lost to Niceville 48-0; Sept. 19 lost to Escambia 41-12; Sept. 26 lost to Tate 33-32 (OT); Oct. 3 lost to Pace 28-6; Oct. 10 beat Crestview 33-7; Oct. 17 lost to Washington 23-14; Oct. 24 lost to Milton 28-26 (4OT); Oct. 31 lost to Pensacola 29-26.
Players to watch
Skinny: A fearless tackler, Jackson was third on the team with 81 last season. He added three interceptions to portray his coverage skills and could be a crucial senior leader for Pine Forest.
Skinny: Wiggins showed glimpses of greatness during his sophomore season, finishing with an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Wiggins can be a threat on special teams, racking up 148 yards on five returns last year.
Skinny: The dual-threat quarterback averaged 18.8 yards per completion during his sophomore season while racking up 301 rushing yards. Like many of the Eagles, Saulsberry possesses good speed, but he brings size that many of the Eagles lack.
Top 3 games
•Aug 28., at Pensacola High: The Eagles will face a classic area rival in week one, but this year, it won’t carry district implications. The Eagles will pursue a hot start to their season as two of the most athletic teams in the area clash.
•Oct. 2, vs Escambia: The Eagles will play host in their fist District 1-6A contest of the season. They will face off against the Escambia Gators in effort redeem last year’s 41-12 loss to the Gators.
•Oct. 30, at Tate: This match will mark the third meeting between the teams in one calendar year, with Tate being the victor after an overtime battle in the previous two matches. The game will close out district play for both squads and playoff hopes may be on the line.