Nick Pipkins has heard it all.
For two straight years, Pipkins had to endure the constant jokes, teasing and ridicule about Sacred Heart’s 20-game losing streak.
A streak that started three years ago but was highlighted by back-to-back losing seasons.
“It sits in the back of your head, especially once you get to the 20th game,” Pipkins said. “You get to a point where it rolls off your shoulder. Here goes another joke about our losing streak.
“I really want to end it. I want to fix this so we can stop getting clowned on.”
That all changed this year as Pipkins helped the Crusaders by breaking Sacred Heart’s single-season rushing record and leading his team in tackles, which helped create a historic season for the program. Pipkins was crucial in fixing Sacred Heart’s woes and achieving a program-best 8-2 record that featured numerous school records to be broken, which is why the senior running back/linebacker earns the honor of Pine Belt Sports Player of the Year.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Sacred Heart coach Ed Smith said. “He was able to make plays at times when they might have had us outnumbered. At some crucial times, he broke some games open for us.”
But for many, including Pipkins, his success, as well as his own, was a bit of a surprise, especially after the Crusaders lost in their season-opening jamboree against Stringer.
“It’s been hard,” Pipkins said. “In the past few years, I feel like a lot of us on the team, and I even saw it in myself, that I gave up a little hope. Especially after the first game, the jamboree against Stringer, we took another loss. That really hurt us.”
Everything changed in Sacred Heart’s season opener against rival St. Patrick.
“Then we came back against St. Patrick,” Pipkins said. “They are our rival, and they were talking a lot of stuff before the game, just like they do. I think that just got everybody’s gears going and made everyone mad. So everybody played like they should play and can play. Once we beat them, we actually proved to ourselves that we actually could win when we do what we need to do.”
Even after Sacred Heart defeated their rival 41-13, which saw Pipkins rush for 110 yards and two touchdowns and recorded 15 tackles along with a sack and interception, many still doubted the Crusaders. But the win wasn’t just a one-off; instead, Sacred Heart got off to a program-best 4-0 start.
“I hadn’t (won a game) since my ninth-grade year,” Pipkins said. “It was a weird feeling. Everyone was making jokes and making fun of us. Then you go to school, and it’s (a sarcastic), ‘Wow, you won a game. Good job.’ Then you get to 4-0, and everybody is like, ‘You are actually good this year,’ and when people are hyping you up and giving you confidence about your team, it’s a whole other feeling.”
Sacred Heart finished the season undefeated at home, which was the first time in school history.
As the season went on, Pipkins wasn’t aware that he was infringing on the school’s single-season rushing yards record or the single-season rushing touchdowns record. In the Crusaders’ final game of the year against Fisher (La.) Pipkins finally eclipsed the mark.
“After every play, I was looking over at Coach (Drew) Dewease, and he was putting up finger numbers for how many more he needed,” Pipkins said. “It was awesome.”
Pipkins rushed for 1,219 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with making 17 catches for 182 yards and a receiving touchdown.
On defense, Pipkins racked up 86 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions.
“The way he played, the team kind of followed the way he played,” Smith said. “He was also the type of player that could be in the backfield but also spread him out wide and throw the ball to him. He made plays in the passing game as well. He was definitely the go-to guy.
“With the rushing yards record, a lot of that was on him. He made plays where people would stack an extra guy in there, and we didn’t have enough people to block, so he would have to be his own blocker or make somebody miss.”
Yet, Pipkins credits his team’s turnaround success to his linemen, specifically his offensive line.
“(It was the difference) for the team’s season,” Pipkins said. “It was definitely the difference for mine. I couldn’t run the ball like I did if I didn’t have those guys up there blocking for me, of course. Even in instances where I wasn’t getting the ball, and we were throwing the ball, they really gave Andrew (Grubbs), our quarterback, a lot of time to make smart passes and not have to get rid of the ball quickly to not get sacked.”
While Pipkins knows his team’s season was independent, the importance of the year was to make the year special for himself and fellow seniors and help lay a winning foundation for teams to come.
“It was a big season for us, but not with just winning games,” Pipkins said. “I think we laid (the winning foundation), and I hope they continue that next year. I’m really looking forward to them playing.”