The tradition with Pine Forest football is unmistakable.
Under Jerry Pollard — the second-longest tenured coach in the area — the Eagles have shown a competitive product year-after-year, highlighted most recently by a state championship in 2000 and a national championship title in 1988.
This Friday, the Eagles hold their homecoming against District 1-6A rival Escambia as Pine Forest celebrates its football program’s 40th anniversary.
“It’s very important, there’s a lot of tradition here,” said Pollard, referring to the anniversary celebration. “There’s been a lot of players here who have gone on to play in college and the pros. We’ll have a lot of them come Friday night. I’ve gotten calls from all over the country. It should be a fun time tomorrow night.”
The match up features two of the area’s top three rushers (Jabir Frye, Escambia, 915 yards, 8 TDs; Xavier Saulsberry, Pine Forest, 667 yards, 6 TDs) and two of the strongest defenses in the area.
“We’ve gotta be aware of No. 8 (Frye),” Pollard said. “He’s a game breaker. Wherever he is we’ve gotta be aware. We gotta be able to try to hold him down as much as we can. Escambia has a very good offensive line, is very well-coached and we have to do a good job of trying to keep him from breaking big runs.”
Pine Forest holds more balance to its offense with Saulsberry passing for 730 yards and 6 TDs and two other rushers (Jaden Gardner and Ladarius Wiggins) in the area’s Top 12 leaderboard.
“We’re very excited, we’re ready to get out there and take this game and work on winning districts this year,” said Gardner, who’s ranked fifth in the area with 553 rushing yards and 6 TDs. “The sweeps and options we run have really been working out for our offense. Escambia has a lot of speed, we expect them to come at us really fast. I know our defense is prepared for that.”
But win or lose, it’s safe to say that the current Eagles are honored to be a part of Pine Forest’s tradition.
“It’s a very special feeling… to know we are honoring the ones who came before us,” Gardner said. “The national champs and the state champs (before us), it’s a good feeling to be a part of that.”
Want to Go?
•Who: Escambia Gators vs. Pine Forest Eagles
•Records: Escambia (4-1); Pine Forest (4-1)
•Where: Pine Forest High.
•Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. with tailgate starting at 5:30.
•Radio: ESPN Pensacola; 1450 AM, 101.1 FM.