LUMBERTON — Three coaches in four years has been what the Lumberton football senior class has seen during their tenure with as Pirates.
Side-by-side at a table in a classroom at Lumberton on Friday, four of them signed to continue their football careers as linebackers Bryce Swindell and Hunter Lowry signed with Wingate University, defensive lineman Monteris Cromartie signed with North Carolina Wesleyan University and wide receiver Jamarie Fletcher signed with Methodist University.
With all the changes they have faced, some solidity came over the program during the past two seasons with the entrance of coach Mike Setzer.
“(The seniors) gives validity to the staff and validity to what they’re doing,” he said. “When you watch good students come out of here with such good opportunities, then you don’t have to talk about what ifs you’ve got names now to point to them.”
The seniors join offensive lineman Pete Townsend who also signed to play with Elon in the fall and are using the help of football as a means to continue their education. That’s something Setzer feels is the most important part of their signing ceremony.
“It makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing,” Setzer said. “It’s not about their next four years, it’s about their next 40 years on earth and it just makes you feel like you’re setting them up in the right way.”
All four signees have seen struggles and changes to the program while they have donned the pads for Lumberton, but have used the others on the 21-player senior class to lean on and help lead the Pirates.
Swindell and Lowry both signed to play for Wingate and have been recruited by the program for the last month.
“Me and Hunter going to the same school — that’s my best friend — we’ve been planning this forever and this finally came into place,” Swindell said.
Swindell led the Pirates’ defense in tackles for most of the season. He finished with 48 total tackles and four tackles for loss.
“It was pretty tough but we pretty much had the same core guys all four year so we stayed together and got through it,” Swindell said. “We were thankful to get Coach Setzer the last two years and he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”
“He’s going to bring that punch,” Setzer said. “Because of his size, he brings his whole body.”
Lowry battled injury through his final two years at Lumberton, but still finished fourth on the team in tackles with 43.
“It was a great feeling because I’ve played with those guys since middle school and LYFA (Lumberton Youth Football Association) days,” he said of signing with three other teammates. “We’ve just went through hard times together. We’ve been through three different coaches and we’ve got a lot closer and I feel like we can do big things at the next level.”
“Hunter’s like the quarterback on defense,” Setzer said. “The last two years he’s had injuries that have slowed him down, but he came back from the injuries. Over the last two years, he’s only been 100 percent (healthy) about 50 percent of the games.”
After teams teams scouted to put multiple blockers on him and keep the ball away from his side of the defensive line this season, Cromartie moved to the outside of the defensive line and finished the year with 35 tackles and two sacks.
“It’s great because we have all been through the same struggles having three different head coaches,” Cromartie said. “It’s kind of bittersweet because we’re all going to different places.”
It was love at first sign for Cromartie when he went to N.C. Wesleyan on a visit in March after first being recruited at the end of the season.
“As soon as I went on a visit there, I knew that’s where I wanted to go,” Cromartie said.
“He creates so much trouble that they try to double team and move away from him,” Setzer said.
Fletcher was a reliable target for freshman quarterback Braylan Grice this season and had two touchdowns and 330 receiving yards.
“It was difficult, but we had to stay focused,” he said of the coaching changes. “He’s (Setzer) done a lot because he helped me throughout the season.”
“Fletch brought a lot of explosiveness on the field,” Setzer said. “He was such a consistent player. He didn’t drop footballs.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.