Curtin, St. Andrews hope for more wins with revamped roster

Aug. 23—LAURINBURG — St. Andrews football's first season under head coach Bob Curtin wasn't necessarily one to remember after the Knights finished 1-10 overall, with their lone win coming in a 27-26 result against Union.

But with several transfers coupled with young players entering the program during the offseason, Curtin believes his team will be much more improved this year.

"We will be a much better football team," Curtin said. "We will be a football team that competes. Our sort of mantra this year is to do your job. If all 11 (starters) do their jobs, we're going to be a unit. I think it's going to be a much more positive season."

One area that Curtin feels the Knights will be better in this season is moving the ball on offense. In 2022, St. Andrews averaged only 13 points per game, which ranked 89th out of 99 total NAIA teams.

Curtin feels the offense will be able to possess the ball more this season.

"The offense is much more disciplined, much more precise in their actions," Curtin said. "And I think we're going to see a much more efficient offense with the ability to control the ball for longer periods of time and sustain drives. And really, that's all we can ask of them at this point. So, I'm excited about their progress."

As for who will be the man under center leading the offense, that remains a mystery despite St. Andrews' first game of the season being Saturday.

With last year's starting quarterback Andrew Fowler graduated and now the running backs coach for the Knights, there's been a battle between Jalen Dodd, Mason Price, Dylan O'Banks, Darius Holly, Matthew Douyon, and Blaydon Blake throughout the offseason to determine who will be the team's new starter.

All six are new additions to the 2023 roster but Dodd, a transfer from NCAA Division II Carson-Newman in Tennessee, has been with the team the longest and operated as St. Andrews' starter during their spring game in April.

"We're all just working," Dodd said. "We're all kind of equal right now. If one of us goes down, the other one is well-equipped to come back up. (We're) all just almost on the same level. I feel like it's going to be a hard decision for coach to find out who's going to start right now. I feel like we all could do good."

Running backs Dennis Leggett and D'Vonte Allen were vital to the Knights' rushing attack last season but departed from the program. As a result, Anterius Carpenter and Eldrick Williams will have substantial roles this year, and Swiss army knife Dontae' Crowder will also be mixed into the fold. At the wide receiver position, the team will need to replace Marquis McCoy, a productive receiver who transferred in during the middle of last season from NCAA Division I Southern Miss. But Aronson Cook, the team's top receiver last year, is back along with Crowder, and Latrell Snow and Tyquan Watson are players that can "open it up," according to Curtin.

Cook explained what he's been working on during the offseason.

"Just getting better," Cook said. "Correcting mistakes from last season, running hard every play, and just executing."

Tight ends Nijel Pearce, Todgrick Walker, and Devon Roesch return from last season to solidify the position, and Marvin Farmer II, a preseason third-team All-American on offense by "The College Football Network," will be the leader of an offensive line that returns Quaylin McZeke and Nick Hedrick.

The Knights have a new defensive coordinator in Trent Fredericks after he served as an assistant coach for the team last season.

Fredericks has instilled a new 3-4 defense for St. Andrews, but for much of the offseason, the defense worked on solidifying the basics with new players coming in.

"We've got a lot of new faces on the defense this year," Fredericks said. "And the big focus has been just the fundamentals...then maintaining a standard on what we want the defense to look like. So, we just want to make sure, before we get into crazy blitzes and trying to be all clever and everything like that, we want to make sure we know how to run, how to tackle, how to take on blocks properly and just work (on) that before we get into the other fun stuff."

The defensive line will feature El Hasain Hussain and Ervin Gardner returning this season and Michael Suther, a freshman recruited as a tight end but moved to defensive end during the offseason.

Fifth-year senior Austin Hunt will command a young linebacker group that replaces Monte Williams and Trevor Collins.

Hunt said the reason he returned was because of the desire to win.

"The reason I came back is I just want to prove myself; I want to finish out on a good season," Hunt said. "I just want to do little things right. Hopefully, I can get a couple of these freshmen or younger guys to step up with me. And once it becomes contagious, everybody's going to want to do it. I'm not worried about the tackles. I'm not worried about personal goals. I'm worried about this team."

With Hunt back, Fredericks constructed his defense around Hunt's best attributes.

"We wanted to build a defense around what he's great at," Fredericks said. "We're very excited to have Austin back. He's a hard-nosed guy. He's going to come downhill and meet somebody in the gap, and we want to make sure that we funnel the ball back to him so he can make plays because we know that, when he gets down to it, he's the guy you want meeting that guy in the gap."

In the secondary, Lavarius Heath-Lewis, Eduardo Turnbull Jr., and Tedrick Spicer will play sizeable roles along with Sergio Gibson, a former QB at Scotland High School that graduated in 2017.

Fredericks raved about Gibson and what he could bring to the table.

"Sergio is just an absolute talent," Fredericks said. "He's just incredibly athletic. Of course, he's been in the area, so we know what he can do; we've seen him play at Scotland County. We're very excited to have him down here. And right now, he's just getting a feel for what the defense is going to look like. We're getting him settled in, but you can already see glimpses and just plays that he makes, that he's going to be something special."

Diego Barahona will be St. Andrews' new kicker this season, taking over for Cameron McPhatter, the team's starter last year.

But Barahona may not just be a kicker for the Knights.

"He also played O-line (but) I've moved him to D-line," Curtin said. "Diego has a warrior's mentality, and he tries to sneak the red jersey off every chance he can to get on the D-line, and he's quite talented. He's a very good D-lineman, but we're going to preserve him. He can kick extra points (and) he can kick 32, 35, 37 (yard) field goals which give our offense some options."

Barahona is also competing with another multi-positional player to be St. Andrews' punter as he and Cook are "in a one, two race for punter," Curtin said.

While the team has shifted its roster around with players that fit the Knights' scheme better, they've also added guys who can shift the culture at St. Andrews.

Curtin said the young guys who have come in are eager to learn.

"I like the energy; I like a team that can motivate itself," Curtin said. "I love the fact that the young guys when they make a mistake, it's 'yes coach,' 'no coach.' And then I watch them, and they go over to an older guy or a guy that's a little more seasoned, and they're like, 'Hey, what am I doing wrong?' 'How do I fix this?' 'How do I get better?' And then I watch the older guy mentor and tell him this is what you've got to do. This is what they want, and it makes it easier."

The Knights were picked to finish last out of seven teams in the Appalachian Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll released on Aug. 14.

However, Curtin said the selection doesn't bother him and that if his players worry about themselves and ignore the outside noise, they'll see how good they can be. "I'm not a big put it up on the billboard guy," Curtin said. "We've got to have a lunch pail mentality. Come to practice every day, worry about ourselves. It's about us; it's not about them. But I want to make sure the kids are put in a position to be successful, and that's the coach's job. They can fly around the football field, make mistakes, learn from them, and not make the same ones again. And that's when we're going to know we're better."

St. Andrews hosts Webber International on Saturday in a Week 0 contest.