One could excuse Larry Pinto for any bittersweet feelings that washed over him on graduation night last spring. The fond memories of the seniors who performed so well for the Mayfield
High School football coach were indeed sweet. But the knowledge that he
was losing so many of them was quite bitter. Yes, most believed this would be a rebuilding year at Mayfield. But most believed wrong.
One could excuse Larry Pinto for any bittersweet feelings that washed over him on graduation night last spring.
The fond memories of the seniors who performed so well for the Mayfield High School football coach were indeed sweet. But the knowledge that he was losing so many of them was quite bitter.
The Wildcats steamrolled into the Division II state semifinals in 2007 before falling to Louisville. And when practices began for the 2008 season, a huge majority of the seniors who led that charge were gone.
Yes, most believed this would be a rebuilding year at Mayfield. But most believed wrong.
The Wildcats have picked up where they left off. In fact, they have bolted to a 7-1 record and pitched five consecutive shutouts after yielding 47 points in their first three games.
Pinto? He’s only mildly surprised.
“The kids started to gain confidence playing more as the season progressed,” says Pinto of his 3-5 stack defense. “We don’t have a lot of big-name guys. The last two years we had a lot of big-name players. We have more of a team defense this year with 11 playing as one.
“We have a lot more linebacker- and safety-type of kids, but our defensive linemen are quick and they run to the ball well. We’re not big. We’re built more for team speed and pursuit angles and reading keys. But we’re very disciplined.”
It’s certainly working. The defensive line has been exceptional, particularly in rushing the quarterback. The trio has combined for 27 sacks with ends Josh Gordon and Mike Pinto – Larry’s son – piling up 20 between them. Nose guard Cody Hayes has seven.
That last name has become quite familiar to Mayfield fans. Brother Cory Hayes has teamed up with Brian Gehrisch to form an excellent 1-2 punch at linebacker while free safety Gianni Ferrito has anchored an accomplished secondary.
The offense is led by tailback Tim Wetzel, a moderately sized north-south runner who is averaging well over 100 yards a game. Pinto killed a minor quarterback controversy when he moved speedy Tyler Begun to wide receiver after he had been sharing time with pocket passer Lee Longo. The move immediately paid off when Begun caught two passes for 70 yards in one victory.
Pinto’s players heard all the pessimism heading into the season. It served only to motivate them.
“Our kids worked diligently all year long,” praises Pinto. “They had an outstanding offseason and they couldn’t wait to get started. Now we’ve gotten to the point where the kids expect to win instead of just hoping to win.
“Offensively, we now have the kids in the right spots. Moving (Begun) to wide receiver has really opened things up. We’ve scored 31 points in each of the last two games, so it hasn’t been just the defense.”
The mere mention of the playoffs, however, has Pinto cooling his jets. When asked if the 2008 Wildcat edition can match the postseason success of their 2007 brethren, he immediately put a halt to such speculation.
“We take it one week at a time,” he says, echoing the exact words of many a coach before him. “We haven’t clinched anything yet. We still have three weeks in the regular season and hopefully we’ll be able to earn a spot.”
But if they do get in, which seems quite likely, the Wildcats will certainly have an edge in the kicking game. Junior Carey Spear is a Division I college prospect who regularly boots kickoffs into the end zone and even nailed a 51-yard field goal in the opener to secure a victory over Bedford.
As for the inexperience, Pinto doesn’t seem worried. He notes that he does boast plenty of players who participated in the playoffs a year ago, including a few who enjoyed strong supporting roles.
“We have a lot of players who were spell guys last year,” he says. “They weren’t necessarily starters, but they had important roles or they were on special teams.”
On this one-for-all, all-for-one team, every player is important. But a defense that hasn’t allowed a point in four weeks?
Now that’s going above and beyond the call of duty.