Pine Forest linebacker Bernard Flerlage. [Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer]

First in class

Pine Forest linebacker Bernard Flerlage is a force on and off the field

Bernard Flerlage isn’t perfect.

But that won’t stop the Pine Forest senior linebacker from chasing perfection on and off the gridiron.

With the goal of being the quintessential student-athlete, Flerlage sees a scheme and he wants to solve it. That meticulous mentality helped the first-class defender rack up a team-high 111 tackles last season for the Trojans, who finished with a 10-3 record and claimed their first conference title in 20 years.

“... Not every play will be the perfect play,” said Flerlage, who finished with 80 solo tackles and nine tackles for loss. “Teams will get yards, teams will put up points. Staying together and playing together as a team is the biggest part of holding it together.”

He carries that same attitude into the classroom, where he’s a first-class student, soaking up all of the knowledge he can to be the best version of himself.

“Right now, I’m currently tied with somebody else for No. 1 in my class,” Flerlage said. “Me and that person always go back and forth, almost like you do on a football field.”

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Pine Forest takes on Gray's Creek on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, at Pine Forest High School. [Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer]

About the Trojans ...


Pine Forest takes on Gray's Creek on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, at Pine Forest High School. [Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer]

Top returners: DJ Jones, RB, Sr.; Bernard Flerlage, LB, Sr.; Jamaal Hill, OL, Sr.; Jemal McLean, WR, Jr.; Levonte McLean, DB, Sr.; Blake Marshburn, OL, Sr.

Potential breakout players: Jaden Jones, QB, Jr.; Xavier Johnson, OL/DL, Jr.; Ethan Ward, RB, Sr.; Ahmad Simon, RB/WR, Sr.; Blake Paul, WR, Jr.

Coach's outlook: "We’re not changing what we did last year to be successful. They understand what’s on the line. I like the fact that they believe they can do it. They know what they need to do it and the younger guys are stepping in. There’s a lot of competition and that’s the big thing. In being 'King of the Hill,' that plays into the mentality in terms of practices and things throughout the year.'' evaluation: Avoiding complacency will be key for the Trojans, who claimed their first conference crown in 20 years last season. But after a heartbreaking loss to Scotland in the NCHSAA 4-A state playoffs, Pine Forest doesn't lack motivation entering 2019. With DJ Jones, one of the most dynamic playmakers in the state, carrying the offensive load behind a veteran offensive line and linebacker Bernard Flerlage leading the defense, the Trojans should once again be in position to fight for top honors in the Patriot. The core that helped get the job done last year is back. Now it's about taking the same steps, and making tiny adjustments along the way, to remain King of the Hill.

Conference: Patriot (4-A)

Coach: Bill Sochovka

2018 record: 10-3, 7-1

5-year record: 38-32, 23-17


All games at 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 23 — at Purnell Swett

Aug. 30 — Lumberton

Sept. 6 — at Jack Britt

Sept. 13 —Overhills*

Sept. 20 — at Gray's Creek*

Sept. 27 — Douglas Byrd*

Oct. 4 — at Westover*

Oct. 11 — South View*

Oct. 18 — Open

Oct. 25 — at E.E. Smith*

Nov. 1 — Cape Fear*

Nov. 8 — at Terry Sanford*

*Conference game



DJ Jones was an all-around threat for the Trojans last season with 206 carries for 1,198 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 307 yards and five touchdowns. With the stresses of recruiting in the rearview mirror — Jones committed to UNC in June — he can now focus on putting a bow on his stellar prep career while the Trojans chase another league title. Known for his versatility, Jones expects to put up even bigger numbers as a senior.


Junior wide receiver Jemal McLean showed flashes of his potential in his limited role for the Trojans last season. But his biggest moments came in two of the team's biggest games, wins over South View and Terry Sanford that helped Pine Forest earn the Patriot crown. McLean caught three passes for 61 yards against the Tigers, scoring both touchdowns in a 14-7 win. In a 21-14 victory over the Bulldogs, McLean's 58-yard kickoff return set up a touchdown. Coach Bill Sochovka said McLean is looking to take that next step this fall after a "really good summer." 


The Trojans will continue to run the ball and smother opposing offenses with their physical play in the trenches, a formula that helped them rise to the top of the conference in 2018. Jones is the thoroughbred, but Sochovka likes his offensive weapons. Ethan Ward rushed for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Douglas Byrd last season, and Ahmad Simon will look to bring production in the slot. The key, Sochovka said, are "the horses in front on each side of the ball."


Pine Forest has been a consistent source for major-college football talent. Harold Landry and Lamont Gaillard are two of the latest examples of shining stars for the Trojans. Gaillard, a center from Georgia, was the 179th overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals in April's NFL draft. Landry, who earned All-ACC honors and All-American honors at Boston College, is entering his second season with the Tennessee Titans. He logged 24 solo tackles and 4.5 sacks in his rookie season.

Pine Forest takes on Gray's Creek on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, at Pine Forest High School. [Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer]
Pine Forest takes on Gray's Creek on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, at Pine Forest High School. [Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer]


Aug. 17 — W, Purnell Swett, 35-14

Aug. 24 — W, Concord, 25-0

Aug. 31 — L, at Richmond, 28-0

Sept. 7 — W, Gray's Creek, 42-36*

Sept. 25 — W, at Douglas Byrd, 28-21*

Sept. 29 — W, Westover, 23-18*

Oct. 12 — W, E.E. Smith, 55-0*

Oct. 19 — L, at Cape Fear, 28-7*

Oct. 25 — W, Terry Sanford, 28-21*

Nov. 5 — W, at Overhills, 21-0*

Nov. 9 — W, at South View, 14-7*

Nov. 23 — W, Middle Creek, 27-7**

Nov. 30 — L, Scotland, 27-21**

*Conference game

**NCHSAA playoff game