SC’s Cunningham has high hopes for senior season
Getting an opportunity to play Division I football was always a goal for South Charleston’s A.D. Cunningham. Now that he has a grip on that dream, the Black Eagles’ senior has his sights set on a standout final act to his high school career.
Cunningham, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte commit, enters his senior season as a Daily Mail preseason All-State first team selection at linebacker coming off a junior season when he was a second team All-State pick at linebacker by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association and ran for 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Black Eagles.
“I look at him as a star player,” South Charleston coach Donnie Mays said. “The thing he holds is the kids look up to him and that’s captain and star material. The thing he has that a lot of running backs don’t have is field vision. He can see number to number or sideline to sideline. He’s a one cut and go guy. He’s really grown in that part of his game.”
Last season, South Charleston finished 7-4 in its return to the Class AAA playoffs, with the four losses coming against playoff teams (Capital, Huntington, George Washington and a first-round loss at Wheeling Park). Mays said Cunningham has been a big part of the team’s offseason focus on improvement and is a leader on field.
“He’s an instinctive player,” Mays said. “He knows through film study the keys we go over and how to use it on the field. He can also tell you what’s going on from the sidelines. He’s the leader of that group. He knows how to get the ball and wants to because he can make plays. What’s difficult for some kids is easy for him.”
Cunningham missed most of the second half of his sophomore season two years ago after a shoulder injury early in the game against Capital. In that same game, then freshman quarterback Kentre Grier took over the Black Eagles offense in the second half and led SC to a come-from-behind win against the Cougars.
In 2013, the pair finally got to share a backfield and shined in Mays’ offense.
“It’s always great to share a backfield with (Grier),” Cunningham said. “He’s a very good player. He’s young but he’s very good and he’ll be very good. I was excited to play with him because I watched him work while I sat on the sidelines after I got hurt. It was amazing to watch him as a freshman lead us to that victory.”
It was Cunningham’s play of defense, however, that caught the eye of Charlotte. The 49ers recruited him as a potential outside linebacker, where he could join current Charlotte middle linebacker and former George Washington standout Dustin Crouser.
“It just feels like home down there,” Cunningham said. “They were very welcoming and they showed me a lot of love and that they really wanted me from the day they started recruiting me.
“It’s a blessing. I told my dad that I prayed to God that I’d get to play Division I. That was always my dream, to play Division I football. It came true.”
The 2015 season will be the 49ers first as a football playing member of Conference USA and will provide Cunningham the opportunity to perhaps play against Marshall, where his father (former Capital standout William King) is in the athletics hall of fame and also where one of his mentors — current New England Patriots and former South Charleston receiver Aaron Dobson — recently finished his own stellar collegiate career.
“(Dobson) is a big brother to me,” Cunningham said. “We talk on occasion and he just tells me to keep working and keep my head on straight and everything will fall into place.”
South Charleston opens its season Aug. 29 at home against rival George Washington.
What the future holds for Cunningham and the Black Eagles remains to be seen, but Mays said he is confident in the senior’s ability to lead the team and go on to do great things in college.
“The kid’s just a good ballplayer,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”
Contact sportswriter Tom Bragg at email@example.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.