Pine River football focuses on Friday scrimmage

Pine River football players go through drills at a recent practice. (Herald Review/John Raffel)
Pine River football players go through drills at a recent practice. (Herald Review/John Raffel)

LEROY — Pine River entered last week to open the preseason with a young team and a new coach.

But coach Terry Martin noted last week that the squad was also going through their first week of official practice with extremely heavy hearts.

The team, student body and entire Pine River community was mourning the loss of Valerie

VanAvery, who was to start her senior season this fall. She was killed in a traffic accident earlier this month.

“We’re going,” said Martin after the team’s second practice of the year a week ago Tuesday. “It’s a little bit of a chaotic schedule with everything going on. We had to make some big changes based on kids needs and everything going on. This is pretty tough. Our whole varsity team has been pretty shook up by it. She was an incoming senior but pretty close to a lot of our teammates.”

A scheduled camp and dinner Sunday night of last week was cancelled as a result. Practices were also shortened.

“Every day we get together is a little better in getting out of the shadow of that whole thing,” Martin said this past Sunday. “I think it’s done the kids good to have something normal to focus their time and energy on.”

This Friday, the Bucks scrimmage at Mancelona. They will kick off the season Aug. 29 at Kalkaska.

Frankfort and Charlevoix will also be at the scrimmage.

Getting experience with the new option offense will be critical at the scrimmage, Martin noted, adding that the event will also help put the final say on the opening game lineup. The Bucks had an intra-squad scrimmage this past weekend.

“Defensively, we want to make adjustments on the fly as we see some different formations,” Martin said. The first-year coach has liked how his team has adjusted to the new offense so far.

“I think they’ve caught on to it well,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of giving it a chance.”

The Bucks, coming off a 2-7 season, only have three seniors with Skyler Nelson at quarterback,  and Brandon Hoaglund and Kyle Nixon, both at receiver and running back.

Hoaglund and Nixon were not on the team last season.

“We don’t have a big number of leaders,” Martin said. “From the football standpoint of things, almost the entire team is young. We have three quality guys in character and work ethic. That alone has been good leadership for our team.”

Martin does have some juniors that are returning with experience including Brandon Fulks “who will be key to a lot of our success,” he said. “He’s looking good in camp.”

Tyler McCurry will be a key lineman for the Bucks. Talented versatile junior Mitchell McDonald returns as a running back and linebacker/defensive back. He filled in at quarterback last season after Nelson went down with a broken collar bone.

Martin realizes it won’t be easy being in the tough Highland Conference, featuring Division 8 state runner-up Beal City.

“Beal City and Lake City will be strong,” Martin said. “Evart and Manton will be strong as well. McBain is always McBain.”