With new cast, Eagles aim to repeat

Having won three of the last four NCISAA Division II football championships, First Assembly is again aiming to come out on top.

Mike Minter's Eagles hope to win its third consecutive title with a brand new cast, having to replace a lot of talent from last year's title team.

But the coach isn't too worried.

"Every year has been like that - every year I have to rebound from losing key guys," said Minter. "You have to make this team as good as you can with what you've got."

The team lost 14 players to graduation, including all-state selections Christian Little, Ugonna Awurunye and Tyler Rhyne.

Quarterback Andrew Goodman, who threw for 1,229 yards and 12 touchdowns, transferred back to Mallard Creek, leaving a question mark at the play-caller position.

"That was a big blow for us," said Minter.

In addition to Goodman, the team loses its top receivers in Damon Simmons and Mike Matis, who caught for a combined 844 yards, as well as running back Jeremiah Walker, who had 704 rushing yards.

First Assembly also loses three players from its offensive line.

"We're going to have to rebuild our offense all the way around," said Minter.

There are questions about who will be back for the Eagles, but all-state running back Michael Minter, who led the team with 1,587 yards and 18 touchdowns, is slated to return.

All-state cornerback Dante Simmons, a 6-foot-4 junior, will have the reigns at quarterback.

"He's more athletic than Drew, but I don't think he can throw the ball like he can," he said. "We'll be limited. We'll have to get creative."

Minter said the team is in much better shape defensively.

Simmons and senior all-state middle linebacker Easton Sprayberry should lead the way for the Eagles. Senior Fred Bates should be a big help in the back, while Cannon transfer Will Nork should help solidify the defense at outside linebacker.

"Having guys of that caliber frees us up to do a lot inside," he said.

The Eagles lose two defensive ends, but will have Northwest Cabarrus transfer Sheldon Williams to help fill the gap. The junior will also see some time at tight end.

Defensive tackle Ronald Evans, who sat out last season battling leukemia, should provide a spark for First Assembly. Minter said Robert James, a 6-foot, 320-pound senior nose guard, should be one of the most improved players after getting faster during track season.

Sophomore Matt Newman, who had nine sacks and four forced fumbles playing on the defensive line and at linebacker, could be the defense's wildcard.

The coach is glad to have a strong defensive unit, especially this season.

"We're going to need this defense, because our offense is going to be way behind," said Minter.

But Minter and his Eagles are still looking to defend their title despite the turnover and tough schedule.

"Our goal is a championship and nothing else than that," he said. "It will be a great challenge for us, but we're looking for to it."