Sep. 20—The Pirates' slashing run game has received a lot of attention, and the 'Black Flag' has been a salty crewe for opposing offenses to contend with, but there's been another major factor in the special start to Brunswick High's season.
From kickoffs to extra points and everything in between, the Brunswick special teams units have consistently found ways to impact games over the first four contests.
While the Pirates were hardly poor in the special teams department last season, the addition of David Shores to the Brunswick coaching staff as the special teams coordinator has proved to be a boon for the unit's effectiveness.
"I'm just really proud of the way they're playing," Shores said. "It all starts with effort, and when you get the execution along with it, you start getting big plays."
And the big plays have come in bunches for the Pirates this season.
Terry Mitchell has averaged 41.7 yards on three kickoff returns, his 79-yard scamper on the opening kickoff set up Brunswick's first score in a top 10 matchup against New Hampstead two weeks ago.
The Pirates snuffed out a fake punt attempt by Pierce County in their season opener, kept a point off the board by blocking an after touchdown attempt last week against Islands, and they've even taken to scoring their own points with Nicholas Gray blocking punts and returning the loose balls for scores in each of the past two games.
Shores, a longtime coach with experience at many prominent programs throughout Georgia and Alabama including Peach County, Lowndes, Camden, Hoover and Spain Park, credited Brunswick head coach Sean Pender's commitment to the third phase for the unit's growth this season.
"Not everybody spends a lot of time on special teams; luckily Coach Pender believes in it," Shores said. "We take time during the week. I'll say, 'Hey, man, do we need to skip this part?' and he's like, 'No, we've got to get it in. We've got to get it in.' The head coach puts a point of emphasis on it, we meet on it once a week early in the morning, and we install stuff, and we get out there and practice it. The kids have really bought in and done a good job.
"Kickoff team has been great... Punt block has really come along — the first couple of weeks, we had some plans, but we didn't really execute. Now the kids are starting to really get after it."
Even outside the flashy moments, the Pirates have found the value in good, consistent special teams play.
Kicker McClain Fineran is 16-of-18 on PATs, and he drilled his only field goal attempt this season from 25 yards out. Punter Anthony Elvine has averaged 32.3 yards on 28 kickoffs and 36 yards on four punts this season, dropping one inside the 20-yard line.
The coverage team has been deliberate and effective in their approach, setting Brunswick's offense and defense up in favorable field position. Those numbers don't often jump out when glancing through the box score, but the yards count all the same.
"A lot of people overlook (the hidden yardage)," Shores said. "Championship teams take advantage of those situations."
In that vein, the Pirates have had no hesitation in putting some of their best players on the field for special teams duty.
Ree Simmons, who rushed for more than 1,176 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago, found himself blocking on the kick return team last week.
Jayden Drayton is a key member of the Brunswick secondary, in addition offensive responsibilities that have seen him record three touchdowns over the first four games, yet he's still the Pirates' primary punt returner, averaging 14.1 yards on nine returns this year.
"That's the thing: we've got really good athletes out there doing it," Shores said. "If you can convince them: you can make a play in this phase, just like you can on offense, you have extra weapons in your pocket.
"If we protect the punter, he can become a weapon in our game, where they didn't really ever see it like that. If he has time, the guy can really boom the ball. So just explaining to them, you can be just as impactful in this phase as you can any other phase of the game. They're starting to understand that and see it on film, and that's where stuff really starts taking off."