ACR’s ‘Big Green Machine’ Reloads - TribPapers

ACR’s ‘Big Green Machine’ Reloads

Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Fairview – A.C. Reynolds relies on its punishing defense in its quest for a seventh straight unbeaten mark in the area’s elite Mountain Athletic Conference.

Shane Laws is Reynolds’s all-time most winning varsity football coach. He is 142-43 (.768 ) in 14 prior seasons. Laws won the Asheville area’s last state football title — in 2009. The Rockets came close again as state runners-up in 2017, when they were 14-2. The “Big Green Machine” then went 12-2, 11-3, and 7-2 in the past season in the spring. Last season ended in round two of playoffs — for an earlier exit than usual for the Rockets.

Reynolds (1-2) notched its first win of this fall season by a 24-7 count over Alexander Central. The offense managed merely seven, 12 then 24 points in its tough pre-conference schedule. ACR starts its MAC season at North Buncombe this Friday.

“We’re extra athletic” with many “who make plays,” Coach Laws said. But he pointed out ACR is a “very, very young football team” with many new starters and less depth than usual, Coach Laws said. Yet “we’ve never had young players this talented, and so ready physically and mentally.”

The quarterback again is strong-armed Ricky Tolbert (6-2, 195 so.) who debuted as a freshman in this spring. He gives “stability at quarterback,” Laws said. “He’s the future. Our expectations for him are extremely high.”

Tolbert’s continued development as a decision maker and passer is pivotal to Rocket hopes — especially in the playoffs. He said he is eager to “get better every day.” He is a strong and quick runner. There no longer is Carter Lindsay as an option at QB. The four-year starter is among 2021 grads.

But they are burgeoning new stars. Freshman Max Guest (5-8, 165 fr.) emerged as a rugged runner when he gained 109 yards (7.3 ypc.) in the 15-12 home loss to powerhouse Shelby. He returned kicks for nearly 100 yard in the opener against West Forsyth. Asher Cunningham (6-2, 225 jr.) plays mostly on defense. But whenever he runs the ball you hear the collisions from the stands.

“Masher Asher” Cunningham runs against arch-rival Asheville. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Swift WR-RB hybrids include Machi Ikeme (5-7, 150 sr.). Ikeme caught five passes versus Shelby, while TE-WR Luke Hale (6-3, 190 sr.) had four receptions. Other targets include DaShawn Stone (6-2, 168 jr.) and Brenson Buckner (5-9, 165 jr.). Kick returners include Guest and DB T.J. Clark (5-7, 160 sr.).

ACR retools its O-line. Starters include returning LT Nash Rogers (6-2, 260 jr.) and center Bailey Craig (5-10, 235 jr.). Guard Henry Luu (6-0, 290 sr.) is the heaviest Rocket.

Kicker Shawn Green (6-2, 180 jr.) is a weapon.

“The strength of our team will be our defense,” Coach Laws reasons. ACR reloads its 3-3 stack defense around star outside linebackers Micah “Humvee” Hembree (6-3, 200 sr.) and Cunningham and DB Stone. “Masher Asher” said “I like hitting.” He and Hembree close in on ball carriers well, Laws noted.

ILB Brandon Guest (6-0, 215 so.) and OLB Christian Lewis (5-11, 200 so.) often started as varsity freshmen. The D-line has Russell Barnett (6-3, 260 jr.), Thomas Gibson (5-8, 220 sr.) and Reggie Fields (6-1, 240 jr.). The secondary features Stone, also a basketball star.

Reynolds’ youth, less size than usual and its low-scoring offense early on all might open the door for a new MAC champ. But do not count on that. Rival coaches still rate ACR first until proven otherwise. As Coach Laws likes to say, the goal is to keep winning playoff games and playing ball beyond Thanksgiving.

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