Friday Night Hero: A.L. Brown’s Dante Pinkston
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó Dante Pinkstonís 48-yard return for a touchdown gave A.L. Brown a 14-0 lead against Weddington and was one of the key plays in Fridayís 41-20 victory in the second round of the 3AA playoffs.
It was the Wondersí first kick-return TD since Damien Washington raced 87 yards with the season-opening kickoff against Shelby.
ěThe play started out happening pretty slow,î Pinkston said. ěBut then I saw guys getting blocks and felt an adrenaline rush. I felt the throb of the team, like everybody was working together. Every punt return TD takes a great team effort.î
The Wondersí defense had forced Weddington to kick from inside its 20. The Warriors, coming off a big upset of South Point, may have anticipated that the Wonders would try for a block, but they were thinking about a momentum-building return.
ěWhat happened was everyone in our front seven did an outstanding job and blocked his tail off,î assistant coach Scott Jordan explained. ěWeíd set up for a middle return, that punt goes 32 yards in the air, and Pinkston walks right into it. He made the first guy miss, and then he hit the funnel.î
Pinkston, who can fly, will win most track meets. Once he sped into open space, it was over pretty fast.
ěMake a guy miss, and outrun the rest,î Pinkston said with a grin. ěThatís how itís supposed to work.î
Last season, the 5-foot-5, 140-pound Pinkston was at First Assembly. He contributed as a sophomore on a strong team, making special-teams tackles, catching a TD pass and averaging 13 yards on his occasional carries.
His quiet transfer to Brown prior to this season didnít cause any trumpets to blow or drums to beat. But coaches liked his attitude and acceleration from the start and he quickly earned a place on the depth chart.
ěDynamite comes in a small package,î head coach Mike Newsome said. ěDanteís very elusive and very explosive with the ball in his hands. Weíve got depth right now, but heís got a bright future hereî
Pinkstonís role will expand in 2012, but even with just 34 carries this fall, heís blazed for 331 yards. Heís also caught six passes.
ěGood hands and great feet,î Jordan said. ěHeís got a burst and good ball skills. Blocking-wise, Dante does all he can for a guy his size.î
What the Wonders didnít know right away is how much Pinkston loves special teams.
ěItís definitely the thing I love most,î he said. ěThere are three phases to this game, and special teams are the phase where I can be the most help to my team.î
Pinkston did his best to demonstrate that love at practice. He just kept catching the ball, and coaches started thinking about all the yards heíd save by fielding punts instead of letting them hit and roll. Jordan recalls it was the Northwest Cabarrus in October that he took over punt-return duties.
ěI started getting the practice reps on punt returns,î Pinkston said. ěThat led to game-playing. Game-playing led to Fridayís touchdown. It was a step-by-step process.î
Pinkstonís other big play in the playoffs still has people talking. When Ledford faked a punt in the first round, Pinkston transitioned from return mode to defense mode and sent a helmet flying. That lick earned the little guy ěHitman of the Weekî honors.
ěFor a 5-5 guy, thatís a pretty big blow,î Jordan said. ěDante is fearless.î