Pinque anything but angry

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Jonathan Pinque averages 78 yards rushing per game. 
Centre athletics photo 

According to Centre coach Andy Frye, his senior running back Jonathan Pinque “runs angry.”

“When you tackle Jonathan, you better wrap up or he’ll break it,” said Frye, who has led the Colonels to a spotless 4-0 record this season as they enter this Saturday’s important Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference matchup against unbeaten Birmingham-Southern (5-0).

But according to Pinque, who has now rushed for 2,298 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns in his career, it’s all an illusion.

“I’ve been told that my whole life,” said Pinque, a dual threat who has also added 84 receptions for 840 yards and four touchdowns during his time at the Danville, Ky., school. “I don’t really run angry. I hold my breath when I run.

“It may look like I am mad but I just try to hit the hole, make a cut and make somebody miss. I know that I am strong and that if I can break that one extra tackle, that’s where you get most of your big runs. Somebody told me a long time ago — never let one person bring you down. I try to live by that.”

But as you learn more about the life of the 22-year-old, it appears that he lives his life off the field in the completely opposite way — lifting others up.

In high school at East Limestone in Alabama, Pinque befriended 8-year-old Brenan Ashmore, a sufferer of hydrocephalus and sometimes confined to a wheelchair. (Hydrocephalus is a condition where fluid builds in the head and spinal cord.) Following a touchdown, Pinque leaped into the stands to give Brenan the football. At Christmas, he gifted his game jersey to Brenan.

He now serves as a mentor in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

Or how about the time, as a sophomore in high school when he jumped into a neighbor’s pond to rescue two friends, Jacob Green and Ricardo Jaramillo, whose car was submerged following an accident. Pinque used one of his barbell bars to smash the sunroof and drag the unconscious teens from the vehicle. For that act, Pinque received a Carnegie Medal from the foundation set up by the business mogul and philanthropist.

“Someone nominated me and about six months later I was given the award,” Pinque said. “It came with a reward and scholarship assistance that I’m using now to help pay for school.”

Pinque was two-and-a-half years old when he was adopted from his native Haiti by single mother Audre Pinque. The family lived in California, and then moved to Mexico for a time for her job as a real estate agent.

The family then moved to Alabama partly because “my brother and I were forgetting how to speak English,” according to Pinque, who is a dual major in Spanish and international relations.

Then tragedy struck, as Audre was killed in a car accident on the night of his 13th birthday as the family headed out to dinner to celebrate. Jonathan lived with his adoptive grandfather, uncle and brother until heading off the Centre for school.

But during his sophomore year, Pinque’s grandfather passed away. His uncle, Blair, is afflicted with autism and had lived with his grandfather. With his younger brother away in the Air Force, Jonathan moved his uncle from Alabama to Danville to live with him.

“Coach Frye and the whole Centre family helped me get him up here so I could continue with school and football,” Pinque said. “He just needed to be near me where I could watch over him and not back in Alabama by himself.”

During this time Pinque also became curious about seeing if he could locate relatives in Haiti. He understood that the possibility of locating maybe his mother or a brother was next to none, but still he pursued it. Then, the earthquake struck Haiti.

“The earthquake has made it almost impossible,” Pinque said. “I am still in contact with an organization that is working on doing investigations and seeing if they can find anybody that has my last name.”

Still with all the heartbreak in his young life, Pinque feels fortunate.

“It’s never really been a hole,” Pinque said of his missing family. “My adoptive mother was more than what I could have ever asked for.

“Even in her absence, I’ve always been surrounded by a great group of people, friends and family. I’ve essentially taken them on as my own family. Really, it’s just curiosity.”

And deeper still, he has compassion for birth mother that he doesn’t remember.

“I want to let her know that her decision was not in vain,” he said. “And that I understand and, basically, just thank her. I could still be back in Haiti either not alive or alive and suffering. I just have a really blessed situation right now.”

What does the future hold for the senior who speaks two languages fluently and studies three others?

Like any college senior, he would like to continue his football career, if not in the professional ranks here in the states than in Europe. But he also mentioned an opportunity to move to Spain for a year and teach English or work for the foundation where he spent a summer that connects cultures for the global good.

But at the moment, the most important thing is keeping the Colonels in the hurt for the SCAC championship while finishing up his degree.

Pinque has teamed with junior Monte Scotton to form the top running back tandem in the SCAC. The pair has combined for 587 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games this season. Scotton emerged last season when Pinque suffered through some injuries.

“I am going to be biased, but I think they are the best two in the conference,” Frye said of the duo that also has 18 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown. “They are two different styles of runner. Monte is a glider with good speed. They are hard to defend. They play off each other well and respect each other’s ability.”

The Centre program is still smarting somewhat from a loss to Trinity a couple of years ago at the end of the season that cost them the SCAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs. Last season, the program suffered some tight losses and went a disappointing 6-4.

In Birmingham-Southern, they face a team with lots of motivation itself. After four years of provisional status and small improvements each year, the Panthers a gunning for a trip to the playoffs themselves behind the exploits of running back Shawn Morris. Morris leads the SCAC with 729 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“I hope that our strength would be that we’ve played for these things in the past,” Frye said. “We may have come up short but I hoping that that experience alone will give us a foundation to work from.

“The seniors kind of tasted what it could be like two years ago. When you’re that close, it’s like anything, there’s more passion in getting ready. They know it’s their last hurrah.”

And it is Pinque who has seen the highs and lows and not just on the field. One game will not make the Colonels season, just as one event does not make a life. Maybe it’s best to just be thankful for the opportunity.

“The key is to take it one game at a time,” Pinque said. “I know it’s a clique you hear all the time. There’s highs and lows, we’re not going to get over adulated after one big win because we could get knocked off by somebody else the next week.”

This Week’s Games

Centre (4-0, 1-0 SCAC) at No. 24 Birmingham-Southern (5-0, 2-0 SCAC). The Panthers are ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in program history, while the also unbeaten Colonels have to be wondering where the love is after not receiving a any votes in the D3football.com poll. The two teams rank one-two in the SCAC in scoring and total offense. The key could be Centre’s ability to stop the run, their offense is very balanced averaging more than 180 yards on the ground and through the air. BSC does most of its damage on the ground. The last two meetings have been decided by a total of eight points and Centre holds a 4-0 advantage in the series. The winner probably sets itself up for a de facto SCAC title game with Trinity later in the season.

Huntingdon (5-1) at Trinity (5-0, 3-0 SCAC). This game is probably bigger for the Hawks than the Tigers. Huntingdon, who won 56-30 last year, need this win over a regional opponent to keep its Pool B playoff bid hopes alive. However, a win here for Trinity would give them a little wiggle room for a possible Pool C bid should they falter later in the season in the SCAC. It should be a consummate matchup between an explosive Hawk offense that averages 504 yards a game and a rigid Trinity defense that allow less an 200 a game, keyed by the return of linebacker Nick Darling. 

DePauw (1-3) at Sewanee (2-4, 0-3). After another tough conference loss last week at Trinity, Sewanee may never have a better chance to beat a DePauw program that it has only ever beaten once (1999). Sewanee will have to rev up its option offense again after being held to under 200 yards rushing for the second straight game.  DePauw, hit hard by graduation after consecutive playoff appearances, has struggled to score points with just 14.2 points per game.

Rhodes (2-2, 0-1 SCAC) at Millsaps (3-3, 2-1). Millsaps has won seven straight in this series, but the Lynx have won back-to-back games this season after an embarrassing SCAC opening loss to Trinity. The Majors put together their best offensive output of the season in a win over Austin last week. Running back topped the 100-yard mark for the second straight game with 175 to earn SCAC player of the week honors. Brett Stoots leads the SCAC in passing,  with senior targets Buddy Legens And Jack Lartigue, who have combined to catch 60 balls in just four games.

Southern Oregon (3-3) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (5-0, 4-0 ASC). This could be a tough game for the Crusaders, who are still searching for an identity on offense. Southern Oregon has won 3 straight after a 0-3 start, beating a couple of ranked NAIA teams in the process. The Cru fell to SOU on the road 40-28 back in 2008. Still it’s hard to imagine them dropping this one at home.

McMurry (4-2, 3-1 ASC) at Texas Lutheran (4-1, 3-0). Coach Andy Padron has a great job turning around a program that was 0-10 two years ago. Still for anyone to take them seriously as a ASC title comtender, they need to win this one. McMurry still has playoff hopes of its own.

Louisiana College (4-1, 2-1 ASC) at Howard Payne (1-5, 1-3 ASC). The Wildcats have Pool C aspirations but will have to win out to be considered. The Jackets are trying to avoid the ASC cellar.

Hardin-Simmons (3-3, 1-3 ASC) at Sul Ross State (1-4, 0-3 ASC). The Cowboys snapped a three-game losing streak last week, while the Lobos are still searching for a conference win.

Mississippi College (2-3, 1-2 ASC) at East Texas Baptist (2-4, 1-3 ASC).  The winner here could turn their season around and finish strong. The Choctaws have lost two in a row after tipping Hardin-Simmons, while you never know which Tiger teams will show up. 

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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