LUMBERTON — A pair of players that share the same first name — with two different spellings — garnered a pair of county football awards for the Lumberton football team.
As leaders for the Pirates’ offense and defense this year, junior quarterback Braylan Grice and senior linebacker Breighlan Swindell each picked up awards for their excellence on the gridiron. Grice was named the county’s offensive player of the year and Swindell was the defensive player of the year.
In a 2-9 season for the Pirates that had its shortage of wins, Grice and Swindell were two silver linings for the 2017 campaign.
“I was pleased with what Braylan did to figuratively carry the team on his back. He helped make a bleak season have some bright moments,” former Lumberton coach Mike Setzer said. “Breighlan was our smallest linebacker, but he had the biggest heart.”
During his final season, Swindell finished with 114 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss. The senior linebacker had four games with 10-plus tackles, including 21 tackles against South View and 20 tackles against Pinecrest.
At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, Swindell was one of the smallest players in the linebacking corps. That didn’t hinder his production.
“I really didn’t see any size difference. I just saw players and they put their pants on the same way I do. I never saw it as a problem,” Swindell said. “I couldn’t do it without the rest of my defense.”
In the West Brunswick win early in the year, Swindell came away with a fumble recovery and the game-clinching interception as one of top performances for any defensive player in the county this year.
“I really wanted that win, and we were close. Sometimes you get lucky and things go your way,” Swindell said of that game. “I just went out every game trying to win. I wasn’t worried about stats, just trying to win every game.”
Setzer described Swindell as a player that gave his all in games, practice and anything he comes across.
“Everything he did was 100 percent, even in walkthroughs and practice,” Setzer said. “He refused to be an underachiever and average.”
When it came to his leadership style, Swindell didn’t see himself as a leader, but rather as someone giving effort that the team looked to copy.
“I never really thought I was leading. I just thought I was playing with everything I had every game,” Swindell said. “I was just trying to be aggressive. Anything I saw I would try to go after it and hit it.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Pirates worked behind an inexperienced offensive line and lost their leading rusher from a season ago due to injury early in the year. That’s where Grice picked up the slack. Already known as a dual-threat quarterback, Grice finished the year with 901 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns. He had four 100-plus yard rushing games, three of which came in conference play.
“I felt like I ran the ball pretty well,” Grice said, giving credit to his offensive line to help reach those offensive marks.
“I felt like I stepped up to the plate with our running back going down. I felt like I filled his shoes really well. I liked the physicality of it anyways, so it really didn’t matter.”
Adding on Grice’s passing stats that included a career-best 1,854 yards and 17 touchdowns on 109 completions, he finished the year with 30 total touchdowns. That total was enough to finish second in the Sandhills Athletic Conference for total scores behind Scotland running back Zamir White’s total of 38.
The total touchdown numbers against some of the top teams showed Grice’s talent level, according to Setzer. While Grice’s play caught many people’s attention, it was also the off-the-field growth that left Setzer pleased this season.
“Braylan showed that he was a Division I talent kid by the way he competed against other kids of that level, and a lot of that was with kids that had no varsity experience around him,” he said. “He showed so much maturity in the offseason and I was pleased with what he did.”
With one more year to go and a large number of starters and players returning, there are goals that Grice has going into his final prep football season.
“I worked hard in the weight room and showed on the field with the way I played,” Grice said. “I’ve just got to continue to work hard so I can win it again next year.
“I just want to perfect everything and build off what happened this past year.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.