LUMBERTON — The Lumberton football program has seen a few changes over the last year.
The team’s leadership went from Joe Salas to Ron Cook to Mike Setzer and the Pirates got a new weight room and will run out of a new helmet-shaped tunnel when they take the field at Alton G. Brooks Stadium this season.
But according the players, one of the biggest changes is simply the preparation.
“We’re more disciplined because (Setzer) is harder on us about the little things,” said senior defensive back Devante Stephens. “Salas was hard on us about the little things, but he wasn’t this hard. Coach Setzer is very hard on everything.”
It’s difficulty by design as the Pirates aim to get back into contention in the Southeastern Conference following a one-win season that included the departure of Salas midway through the year.
“The preparation is just totally different than the preparation they’ve been accustomed to,” Setzer said. “There’s never been an easy day since I’ve been here. If we complete a level, we go to the next level.
“Our coaches have done a great job meeting every day and seeing what our next level is and producing workouts where it’s harder for them. Everything from the weight room to the field, if we feel like they’re completing a task, we’re going to make it bigger. We’re going to put another hill in there.”
The goal is to keep the preparation difficult early so that by the time the Pirates open against Douglas Byrd, their difficult schedule seems slightly more manageable.
Under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Garron Warwick, the team put its new weight room to use over the summer, holding lifting sessions eventually that built up to a competition against three other schools from around the area.
The team has also worked to incorporate a spread offense, finding a balance between the old run-heavy ways of Mike Brill and the air raid that Salas started to implement last year. The defense is also undergoing some changes, though nothing severe enough to cause players to change positions.
Key returners include junior quarterback Auston Foley, who was moved from jayvee to varsity last season due to injuries and started in the team’s win against Purnell Swett, and large offensive lineman Pete Townsend.
On top of that, Lumberton carries 26 seniors. Among them are players in crucial roles, including defensive backs Travis Suggs and Stephens, and running back Josh Sheridan, who also has the hands to play in a receiver spot if needed.
Setzer has given the seniors special attention as they learn their third system in as many years.
“A person’s senior year should be their most special year, in my opinion,” Setzer said. “There’s more effort given to these seniors just to make sure that they’re in line but that they’re enjoying the process. That’s the difficult part of it.”
It’s difficulty that has brought the seniors together and helped the team forge a bond, especially as the team held three practices a day while at a camp at Appalachian State.
“It was all tough but now everything is going a little easier,” said junior defensive lineman Monteris Cromartie,
Stephens sees all the work as a positive.
“In the game, I don’t expect easy, but it might just come easy,” he said.
Expectations at the Southeastern Conference media day weren’t very high. The Pirates were picked last in the media poll and tied for fourth place in the coaches’ poll. If anything, Setzer hopes it allows his team to fly under the radar and get a few extra wins.
“I totally expect to surprise so many naysayers, ” Setzer said. “We got picked last in the conference. Do I say that motivates me more? No because I’m already motivated but you talk about ‘Well can we compete when we go into the conference?’ … We want to do more than compete. We’re going to win and that’s the difference this year: these guys are winners this year.”
Coach: Mike Setzer
Last year: 1-10 (1-4), missed playoffs
Projected finish: 4-7
Outlook: Lumberton is coming off a year to forget and Setzer marks the program’s fourth head coach in three seasons. Despite the turnover at the top, the Pirates retain a talented group of seniors that have bought in to Setzer’s tough offseason program. They’ve left the past behind and will push to get back into the playoffs.
“We want to do more than compete,” Setzer said. “We’re going to win and that’s the difference this year: these guys are winners this year.”
Aug. 22 vs. Douglas Byrd
Aug. 29 vs. Pine Forest
Sept. 5 @ South View
Sept. 12 vs. Seventy First
Sept. 19 @ Hoggard
Sept. 26 vs. New Hanover
Oct. 3 Bye
Oct. 10 @ Pinecrest
Oct. 17 vs. Hoke
Oct. 24 vs. Richmond
Oct. 31 @ Scotland
Nov. 7 vs. Purnell Swett*