SOCCER PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Paul Pifer, catalyst for the emergence of Greenback football | Sports
Rob Fox was overseeing a Greenback preseason soccer practice in December 2020 when he was approached by Paul Pifer.
Fox and Pifer had never met before, but the meeting three months before the start of the 2021 season ultimately led to unprecedented success in the fourth season of the Cherokees football schedule.
â(Paul) came to see me this year,â Fox told the Daily Times. âMy time with him was pretty short. They showed up for training one day in December. He just got on the pitch, but I could tell right away that this kid knew what he was doing. He’s an excellent player. He’s the kind of player Greenback has needed for a long time.
Pifer came to Greenback via Concord Christian School in Knoxville, where he had played football in grades five through ninth, despite being a resident of Loudon County.
He could have chosen Lenoir City High School or Loudon High School, but it was Greenback who felt right at home.
âWe were leaving our old school because my parents thought there was something better elsewhere,â Pifer recalls. “… I was excited but nervous, but to be honest I was just happy to play again because I had missed the previous season in COVID.
“I just told (Fox) that I’m ready to play and I think the program can be really an exciting thing, but we would need to put in some extra hours to get positive results.”
What Pifer brought to the team was an understanding of the game, athletic abilities, and leadership skills that were unworthy of a sophomore.
All three qualities have been essential in Greenback’s journey to his first-ever District 4-A title, his appearance in the Region 2-A Championship and his Section spot and Pifer’s selection as an All- football player. Daily Times Boys of the Year.
Pifer scored 21 goals in the historic Cherokees race and racked up individual honors along the way. He was named All-District 4-A, All-Region 2-A, Region 2-A Offensive Player of the Year and Daily Times Men’s Football Player of the Year.
âHe was huge,â Fox said. âPaul is an exceptional player. He is very, very coachable, easy going and very intelligent. He has a very high football IQ. He works well with his teammates. Arrived in the second year, in the eyes of many boys, he is one of the youngest, but he established himself very early on as someone who knew what he was doing and could really contribute to the team.
âPaul is very mature for his age. He is a natural leader. He played a very important role in the caucuses and the pre and post game discussions were very encouraging for his teammates. If you met him you would swear he was a senior.
Pifer’s leadership abilities and his team-first mentality are always in the spotlight, even during the offseason.
For him, any personal accolades he has won on the pitch is a credit to those around him, including his brother, Noah, who was a junior in 2021 and scored seven goals and had nine assists.
Pifer also attributes his faith.
âWithout God and my brother Noah, none of what happened (this season) would have happened,â Pifer said. “They are the reason my season has been a success and I am very grateful to have blessed us with such an impressive season.”
With success comes expectation, and with a District Championship under their belt, the Cherokees will be looking for that and more in 2022.
The good news for Fox is that both Pifers will be there to try to make this a reality.
âThey are more confident than they’ve ever been,â Fox said. âWe have just finished our fourth season and we have reached a level that we have never reached before. You get a taste of it and the boys on this team are hungry to start over at a minimum. It sets a precedent that we want to go back to and the talent of Paul and Noah will definitely help us get to where we want to go. “
Pifer does not shy away from these expectations either.
Going back to a District Championship game and beyond, he plans to keep the same focus that he says has helped him get there.
“None of this season’s successes would have been produced without the foundations laid in practices and games, which made sure to make God a priority,” Pifer said. âMy brother and my teammates agree, and we think that’s what made (this season) so special.
âEverything could go wrong and we had pitfalls along the way, but Jesus helped us produce greatness in what few thought we could do.
Follow @ByNoahTaylor on Twitter to learn more about sports reporter Noah Taylor.