When the Wolfpack take on Pace Academy on the road tonight, that will certainly not be the case.
“Coach (Matthew) Hall has done as good a job of helping build a football program at Pace as anybody,” Whitefield Academy coach Jimmy Fields said. “He’s done a tremendous job taking them from the beginning steps to a playoff contender year in and year out. He’s certainly built a good football program there.
“In some aspects (of scheduling Pace), it’s good and bad. But it’s good in getting measured to see just how good of a football team you have when you up against a team like Pace Academy.”
Although Pace finished 5-5 last season, the Knights finished 9-2 reaching the state playoffs in Class A. Over the last four years, the two teams have split their series, though Whitefield hasn’t beaten the Knights since 2009. Last year, the Wolfpack lost 35-7 at home.
“It’s certainly turned into a rivalry game between the two schools,” Hall said. “We’ve been going at it for four years previously. They won the first two, and we won the last two, so it’s time for someone to jump in front.”
In order for Whitefield to jump in front in the series and take a step forward in its season opener, the Wolfpack will have to answer a key question that will heavily impact its strong suit: the running game. Due to graduation, much of the offensive line is new. Three-time all-region Jacob Southerland is no longer around, though senior center Everett Joiner is back and is expected to anchor a line with little game experience.
“Obviously, that’s a concern at the line of scrimmage, but they’ve worked hard,” Fields said. “A lot of them on the line are seniors and this is their time to step up. And, so far, they have.
“We do have several skill players that have extensive playing time and are returning. They have stepped up in the offseason and feel that leadership role. We’re at a point now where we need to step on the field and play somebody.”
Senior running back Richard Sherrell is included in Fields’ list of experienced skill position players returning. Sherrell finished last season with 754 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Under the Wolfpack’s new option offense, Fields hopes that he will be more productive.
“Richard Sherrell is a returning running back that started as a junior and even some as a sophomore,” Fields said. “We look to his leadership, and he’s done that. It’s not just because he’s a returning starter, but (also) he’s done it in the weight room and in preseason practices. He’s been consistent.”
Although Whitefield is certainly looking for a win tonight, the Wolfpack, like all other teams, are looking for signs of improvement ahead of their more meaningful games starting with Region 6A play Oct. 5 against Fellowship Christian. He expects his players to play hard and show enthusiasm throughout its opener, something that may not be easy to spot from the stands.
“I think you start with defense, attacking the football, running to the football, gang-tackling and playing with great enthusiasm,” said Fields of what he was looking for. “That will carry over into special teams and the offensive side of the ball. That’s how I would see that playing out in the first, second, third and fourth quarters.”
— MDJ Sports Writer David Rutz contributed to this story.