Mike Minter loves to run the football.
From his high school days as a star quarterback at Lawton High in Oklahoma, to his college days at Nebraska, even into his professional football career as a Carolina Panther, he has seen the running game work at a championship level.
"My philosophy has always been that you have to be able to run the football and stop the run to win football games," said Minter. "From a young age that is always what my teams have done and that is what we have always believed in. I know that formula works."
That same running formula has been a staple for First Assembly football as well under Minter in his three years as head coach, when his team's have gone a combined 31-4 overall. The Eagles rushed for nearly 3,970 yards in his first year, 2,963 in 2009 and had already amassed 3,077 going into last Friday's game.
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All three teams have averaged at least 300 yards rushing per game and more than 34 points per contest under Minter.
"Our goal every game is to come in and run the ball for 300 to 400 yards," he said. "When you put that kind of emphasis on the run game, and everybody knows it is coming and they still can't stop it, I think that is when you know you are a good football team."
The 2010 version of First Assembly (7-2, 6-0) is averaging 342 yards rushing per game, led by two explosive backs in sophomore Michael Minter Jr., the coach's son, and senior Jeremiah Walker. Michael, a 6-foot-1, 175 pounder, is the taller, strong back and leads the team with more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Walker, who was selected to the private school Shrine Bowl, (5-foot-3, 160 pounds) is the smaller, shiftier back, who has over 550 yards and nine scores on the season.
Michael and Walker are two more great Eagles' backs in what is becoming a long line of greats, including Tony Moore (1,800 yards in 2009) and Andrew Burton (2,237 yards rushing in 2008).
"Our running backs this year are a lot like the guys we've had in the past in terms of talent," said Minter. "But, I think these guys are faster, more explosive. They can run by you or through you. That's a tough combination."
While the running backs usually get most of the praise, Minter is quick to point out his offensive line, which is a veteran group with three seniors in Christian Little, Nick Mark and Caleb Sheffield and two juniors in Schuyler Coleman and Jonathan Martin.
Little and Coleman lead the way, as both exceed 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds, but Minter says Martin is probably the smartest, Sheffield, the most experienced and talented, and Mark is the guy that does all the "dirty work," which Minter said often goes unnoticed.
"We couldn't run the ball the way we do without a great offensive line," said Minter, also giving a lot of credit to his offensive line coach Steve Kinard. "Those guys up front, along with Coach Kinard, deserve a lot of the credit. They play and work just as hard as anyone else."
Minter and company hope that the running game will lead them back to another state championship game, as the Eagles have played in the last three - two of which were under Minter.
First Assembly, who is the No. 1 in the NCISAA Division II playoffs, hope to defend last year's state title, which capped off a perfect 13-0 season.
"We have another great opportunity to play for a state title with the No. 1 seed," said Minter, whose team has also gone undefeated in conference play the last three years.
"Winning championships is what we are all about. That is what you strive and that is why you play the game."