Coming off of a strong season that included the first playoff win in program history, the UNCP football
team will look to replicate that success with a roster that looks much different than it did a year ago.
The Braves graduated several key players from last year’s squad that posted a 10-2 record. Star receiver B.J. Bunn, All-American kicker Matt Davis and leading rusher Rontonio Stanley are among those players. UNCP also lost last season’s starting quarterback in Patrick O’Brien, who transferred to Catawba for his final year of eligibility.
The departure of O’Brien allowed for some competition over the offseason to see who would take over at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Dominick Samson earned that right, but another athlete is expected to be vying for his position as the season progresses. Redshirt junior Reggie Pinner, the most experienced quarterback on UNCP’s roster, will return to the field after he serves a two-game suspension imposed by the team. Pinner threw just eight passes last season while backing up O’Brien, completing five of them for 50 yards.
The quarterbacks will have a relatively young group of receivers to throw to. Redshirt seniors JoJo Spann and E.J. Williams will lead a receiving corps that includes seven true freshmen. Williams and redshirt junior JoJo Grant both transferred to UNCP from UNCP’s week one opponent, Winston-Salem State. Defensive lineman Lucas Brim also came from WSSU.
Multiple running backs will be seeing action this season in the absence of Stanley, who rushed for 851 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016. Miles Grant, Quadrin Williams, Josh Sheridan, Brian Staton and Jo Leake will get chances to make an impact for the Braves. However, one of the biggest influence on their ability to succeed is UNCP’s young offensive line.
With junior guard Jared Johnson being the only starter returning from last year’s offensive line, plenty of new faces will be relied upon to protect the quarterback and open up holes for the running backs. Derek Berrier and Timon McMillan are among the 13 athletes in the unit, a group that includes six true freshmen.
UNCP’s defense lost last year’s playmaking defensive captain in Elijah Williams to graduation in the spring and leading tackler Garrett Barnett due to medical retirement, but the Braves defensive front still has the potential to make big plays. Seniors Khalil Vance and Alpha Lamin as well as redshirt junior Tyler Hinton anchor a defensive line that helped contribute to the team’s 35 total sacks last season. The Braves will also field an array of explosive defensive backs including redshirt sophomore Shawn Everett and redshirt junior Josh Manns .