The Southern Standard wants to take the opportunity to highlight the standout WCHS athletes. Partnering with R3 Logistics and Mud Bums Family Sports Grill, we will be honoring a Pioneer of the Week throughout the 2022-23 school year. Our honoree from Sept. 25 - Oct. 1 is Pioneer football player Nate Elrod.
It would’ve been easy for Nate Elrod to check out mentally. After 15 games of being the starting quarterback for the Pioneers, which included an all-region honor in 2021, the Pioneers decided to make a change to its offense last week. Elrod was replaced at quarterback, with the reins being handed over to Alex van Vuuren.
Instead of sulking, Elrod was determined to forge a new path. He moved outside on offense and instantly morphed into one of the most productive Pioneer receivers in the last decade.
In his first start at receiver last Friday against Coffee County, Elrod caught four passes for 108 yards, becoming the first Pioneer receiver to top the century mark since McCall Turner did it three straight times to finish the 2016 season.
Elrod may have also done something never before seen in 54 years of Pioneer football at Nunley Stadium against the Red Raiders. He finished last week’s game with 100+ yards receiving, threw a touchdown pass and also rushed for another as his versatility was pushed to the forefront of the Pioneer offense.
It’s been an easy transition for Elrod to go from senior signal caller to star receiver. His motto has always been putting the team first and that was his focus when the coaches decided to make a switch recently.
“I just want to do whatever is best to help the team,” said Elrod. “I like being outside at receiver – it’s been great. I’m glad we have another quarterback who can air it out.”
Elrod’s performance at receiver, and the highlight-reel catches he’s already made, may have the coaches wondering what would’ve happened if they switched the offense sooner. Elrod has already racked up a team-high 11 catches for 209 yards at the position, which included getting some run at receiver late against Siegel and Mt. Juliet.
His athletic ability has been unleashed as he’s making people miss in the open field, making toe-tab catches near the sideline and going over defenders in the air to bring the ball down – often called “Mossing” defenders in honor of Randy Moss’ ability to use his size at the position in his impressive NFL career.
“Nate knows how to play the ball when it’s in the air as well as anybody I’ve coached,” said offensive coordinator Donnie Harris. “He can adjust to the ball and give himself the best chance to make the play.
“He’s also very good at using his hands to catch the ball – not letting it get into his body – and he understands how to work the route space to get open.”
Elrod’s best highlight came against Coffee County in the first quarter. Facing 3rd-and-10 early, van Vuuren decided to go deep with Elrod running a backside post. The senior receiver went to the highest point, grabbed the ball over the top of a defender and secured the catch as he crashed to the ground.
He would go on to make a spectacular catch in the second half as well, taking a ricochet off a Coffee County defender out of midair for a 28-yard gain.
It’s unlikely Elrod will be able to chase down the top Pioneer receivers. Adrian Lusk has the record for most receptions in a season, grabbing 61 passes in 2014, while Bill Rutledge’s 1,019 yards in 1989 is still the only time a Pioneer receiver has topped 1,000 yards in a single season.
But, with a strong finish – and, hopefully, some playoff games – Elrod could break into the top 10 in single season catches and yardage. To get into the top 10, Elrod would either need to catch 30 passes (tying with Lee Carden’s 2013 mark) or reach 504 yards receiving (to match Malik Ladet’s 2014 season). If he can stay outside – which is up in the air due to the pending availability to van Vuuren after an injury at homecoming – there’s a chance Elrod etchs his name in the record books.
Right now, he’s much more focused on helping the Pioneers earn their third straight 6A state playoff bid. For Warren County to be playing in November, it’ll need plenty of big plays in upcoming games to put points on the board.
It won’t be a hard to figure out how to do it anymore – just throw it to Elrod.