Editor’s note: This is part of a series on Cumberland County high school spring football workouts.
While Pine Forest’s football team is still basking in the glow of winning last year’s Patriot Athletic Conference regular-season title, head coach Bill Sochovka adds there’s still a sour taste from the loss that ended the season.
That occurred in the second round of the 4-A playoffs at Pine Forest. A controversial call prevented the Trojans from keeping a late drive going as they wound up losing to Scotland.
“Some coaches say I’m complaining, but I’m not,’’ Sochovka said. “The kids remembered how it was. In any sport, a loss like that, you don’t take lightly.’’
That is why Sochovka feels the Trojans are quickly looking forward, not back, as preparation for the 2019 season begins. “Last year, we were talking about the leadership and what I thought turned that team around,’’ he said. “That’s still here today. I feel really good about that in terms of the momentum coming off that. All those things in the right place are still in.’’
While things look ready to go on offense, Sochovka said the defense is going to require some rebuilding.
The key returnee for the Trojans is running back D.J. Jones, who has been a major recruiting target. June 26, Jones ended speculation by announcing that his college choice will be the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Last season, Jones rushed 206 times for 1,198 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 307 yards and five touchdowns.
Sochovka said Jones’ accomplishments are not an accident. “You work hard like this kid does, you have a great attitude like this kid does, and you set a goal and you achieve it,’’ Sochovka said. “Great, great, great character. Grades — phenomenal.’’
Sochovka added when players put things together like Jones has, the recruiters will come and find them.
Even Jones' highlight tape is a testament to the kind of teammate he is, Sochovka said. “Six of his first slides are him blocking for somebody else,’’ he said. “He’s got a great motor. Check everything you want to see in a player and times it by two, because he’s got it.’’
As for Jones, his main concern this season is serving as a mentor to the younger players on the Pine Forest team to get them up to varsity level.
“We’ve got a bunch of new guys, younger guys coming in,’’ Jones said. “We’ve got to get them in the system and get their confidence up. We’ve got to get them to be veterans, be the leaders on the team.’’
Jones said he also plans to be a better leader on the field by giving everything on every play. “We know at the end of the day, we could have done better on our part,’’ he said.
Last year’s conference race was tight, with five teams finishing within two games of first place. Sochovka expects another tight race this season, adding that there are several teams with potential to contend for the title if they get the right formula at the right time.
“We surprised a lot of people and we have a target on our back,’’ Sochovka said of his Trojans. “I think it will be another dogfight like it was last year.’’
Photo: D.J. Jones