FACS transfers could play large role this season

After winning a state title last year, First Assembly Christian School will be back on the field vying for a third NCISAA Division II title in four years.

But Eagles coach Mike Minter will have to figure out how to recover from losing more than half his starters from his 13-0 championship team before thinking about hoisting another trophy.

First Assembly lost 13 seniors to graduation, including quarterback David Larson, who threw for 853 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as All-State players like running back Tony Moore, who rushed for 1,800 yards, and defensive tackle Ainsley Miller, who had 79 tackles to go along with nine sacks.

"I don't know how you make that up," said Minter. "You pray a lot - that's why we're a Christian school."

The former Carolina Panthers safety said he hopes his young players will step up this season. They might have learned a thing or two playing behind this year's graduating class and what it takes to win titles.

Minter, who enters his third year at the helm of the program, said that he likes the talent on the team, although he worries about its inexperience.

"We're a young team, so we'll do stupid things," he said. "That's what scares me, the youthfulness of this team, but athletically we'll be fine, we'll be able to play anybody."

Minter said that coming together and figuring out a winning formula with the different pieces the team has right now will be key to the team's success this season.

The two main returning players for the Eagles are Easton Sprabary, who led the team with 80 tackles last season, and Tyler Rhyne, who led the team in interceptions - with six - in 2009.

"Those two guys can play football," said Minter.

Sprabary, a rising junior who plays middle linebacker, is also the team's top returning scorer with 18 points last year.

Minter said Rhyne, who will be a senior this upcoming season, is much improved after spending part of his summer attending football camp at Minter's alma mater, Nebraska.

Rising sophomore Michael Minter Jr., the coach's son, should also contribute to the team, playing both safety and running back for the Eagles.

But First Assembly will have some unexpected help next year from a few transfers at key positions.

Andrew Goodman, a quarterback who transferred to First Assembly after backing UNC-bound Marquise Williams at Mallard Creek for the past two seasons, will take over the play-calling duties.

Minter has high expectations from the rising junior.

"He'll be the best thing that has come through this program," said Minter. "He's definitely (Division I) caliber."

Goodman has spent the summer getting acquainted with his team.

"I know this team is about winning," he said. "My role is just to keep that going."

Jeremiah Walker, a running back who transferred from Northwest Cabarrus, should help lessen the blow from Moore's departure.

Minter said he'll use Walker all over the field.

"He's just a great athlete," said Minter.

The Eagles will be big on the offensive line this year. Minter said the line will average at about 6-foot-2, 270 pounds.

Minter said this year's team will be faster than last year. He added that Goodman, who is 6-3, 210 pounds, should give them a boost under center.

But the Eagles won't be shifting away from their trusty running game any time soon.

Minter said the team should be lights out defensively, led by their safeties, Rhyne and Olympic transfer Donte Simmons.

The 6-foot-3 Simmons, who will be a sophomore next season, received high praise from Minter.

"I tell people right now that he'll play on Sundays," he said. "If he doesn't get hurt and goes to the right team in college, he'll play in the NFL."

Ugonna Awuruonye, a 6-5 defensive end transfer, should also help out the Eagles' defense.

"We have a big size advantage in the line," said Awuruonye. "We'll be a force out there."

Minter hopes to score more off special teams and to more use his kicker, Robbie Freberg, more often. Freberg should improve after attending several camps over the summer.

"Hopefully he'll become a weapon for us," said Minter.

To play in a fourth straight state championship game, the Eagles will have to stay injury free because of their lack of depth - with only about 30 players on the roster.

To make it to a title match, they'll have to get past some stiff competition. Minter made sure to get tough opponents, scheduling Charlotte Christian and Providence Day, to challenge his team.

"I wanted to play the big guys," he said. "That's the only way you get respect."