Sports

Rockets Reload & Aim Again for Titles

Versatile Rocket superstar Carter Lindsay snatches a pass in the playoffs last season.

Fairview – A.C. Reynolds reloads its Rocket ballistic football program for another inevitably outstanding season.

“Always Champion” is what A.C. seems to stand for. Reynolds has gone undefeated in the Western Mountain Athletic Conference and also reached the third round of 3AA playoffs for the past six seasons. ACR was 11-3 in 2019, the prior season.

Shane Laws is Reynolds’s all-time most winning varsity football coach. He is 135-41 (.767 ) in 13 prior seasons and won again Friday over Enka.

Laws won the Asheville area’s last state football title — in 2009. ACR came close again in 2017, as state runner-up.

Half of the starters returned. The quarterback job will initially be split between strong-armed freshman Ricky Tolbert (6-2, 190 fr.) and senior receiver-QB Carter Lindsay (5-11, 185 sr.). “They’ll split reps” at first, to succeed ‘20 grad Eli Carr, Laws said. “Both will play considerably.” He said he hopes Tolbert wins the job this year, to launch a four-year Rocket career. “He’s a very talented quarterback. He has a big arm. He can make all of the throws we need him to make. He’s also athletic. He’s going to be really special.” QB coach John Shoop guides him and Lindsay. Shoop was Chicago Bears OC in 2001-03.

Laws said of Tolbert, “we’re bringing him along. He’s young. There’s a lot for him to learn — for our offense, and how to read coverages. We need our quarterback to do the job, so we can run our offense wide open.”

Once Tolbert shows he is ready, Lindsay can revert full-time back to slot receiver, Laws said. “Carter is one of the best receivers in the state.” Lindsay caught 52 passes for 925 yards (17.8 ypc.) and nine scores in 2019. Yet, Laws noted fourth-year starter “Carter is more than capable of running our offense.” He runs a 4.5 and is ideal as a “wildcat” back taking direct snaps near the enemy’s goal line.

Learn this name: Sayvon Heydon-Gibson (6-2, 175 jr.). He is an emerging weapon catching and running with the ball. The game-breaker took four of his nine receptions in ‘19 to the end zone and averaged 25 yards per reception. He steps to the forefront, succeeding Shrine Bowler Jhari Patterson.

Look for Carter Buckner (5-11, 170 jr.) and Hayezon Tobe (6-0, 170 fr.) to also catch passes, and to get carries. Purer RBs include Asher Cunningham (6-3, 225 so.) and Makhi Ikeme (5-7, 150 jr.). The tight end is Jayden Johnson (6-0, 190 sr.).

ACR retools its O-line. Likely starters are returning LT Benjamin Rogers (6-2, 260 so.), guards Andrew Lee (6-0, 270 sr.) and Jackson Godfrey (5-9, 205 sr.), center Bailey Craig (5-9, 220 so.), and RT John Ramirez (6-3, 200 sr.). “They continue to progress. They play hard,” Laws said. “Half have some game experience” in ‘19.

New kicker Canyon Naisong (6-0, 160 sr.) might not quite reach the nearest canyon with his kicks. But he is reliable for field goals of up to 35 yards, and can hit them at 40, Laws said.

The 3-3 stack defense is golden with all-WMAC star Marc Golden (6-0, 215 sr.) in charge. “Marc is the leader of our defense” vocally, and by example. The middle linebacker led ACR with 184 tackles in ‘19. He pursues ball carriers with speed and puts them away with crunching tacklers. “When he makes the tackle, the guy falls backward,” Coach Laws said. “Pound for pound, he’s our strongest in the weight room.” He calls Golden “the best defensive player in this part of the state. He’ll be one of the best linebackers who has played here. That says a lot.”

Four-year starter Golden was the MLB in ‘19 — following Shrine Bowler Frank Torres, then Eli Hembree in that pivotal position. Eli’s brother, OLB-DE Micah Hembree (6-3, 205 jr.), is among returning starters. “Micah runs really well,” Laws noted. Linebackers/strong safeties include Angelo Scott (6-0, 185 sr.), Brandon Guest (6-1, 205 fr.), Nathan Buckner (5-11, 190 sr.) and Christian Lewis (5-11, 190 fr.). The D-line includes Reggie Fields (6-3, 260 so.), Russell Barnett (6-3, 245 so.) and Thomas Gibson (5-10, 205 jr.).

FS Anthony Lewis (5-11, 165 sr.) made four interceptions and 110 tackles in ‘19. He leads the secondary. “He’s so fast and aggressive,” Laws said. “Anthony is a very physical safety. He can cover the middle of the field, and make plays at the back end.” CBs are T.J. Clark (5-7, 160 sr.) and Milique James (5-8, 160 jr.). DB-QB DeShaun Stone (6-3, 180 so.), a hoops standout, was the JV QB in ‘19.

“The strength of our team will be our defense,” Laws reasons. “We’re fast overall. We’re bigger up front on defense, and still athletic and physical.” Several sophomores start on varsity. “We’re starting more young players than ever,” Laws said. “But we’ve never had young players this talented, and so ready physically and mentally.”

After a half-year delay in the season and months of carefully following COVID protocols, the Rockets are “unbelievably excited to finally get to play,” Laws said. Normally, the Rockets play past Thanksgiving in long playoff runs. This time, the weather warms by the season’s end. Coach Laws said, “instead of playing in December, we want to play in May.”

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