Dragons Senior Andrew Cunningham Pilots Offensive Line
By Troy Phillips
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Obviously, getting to the important stuff with Andrew Cunningham is the truly pressing concern. There’s only so much summer left.
The “Barbie” movie. No, he hasn’t seen it (gasp). But it’s a box to be checked. He gives “Sound of Freedom” a thumbs up, and that three-hour epic “Oppenheimer” is on deck.
“No way,” the Carroll Dragons senior center said of his bladder making it through a three-hour film. “I can barely make it a one-hour road trip. I can’t go a game without a bathroom break. But I heard there’s an app that tells you when you can go and what you missed. ‘Barbie’ is still on the table, but after that …”
Weekday movie windows are narrowing as three-year starter Cunningham and the Dragons (13-1 regional finalists in 2022) prepare to open 2023 against El Paso Eastwood on Aug. 25 at Dragon Stadium. After two years at offensive tackle, Cunningham is large (6-4, 280) and in charge at center after tackle Harrison Moore moved over from tight end.
Carroll’s decision to no longer switch Moore out with junior tight end Jack VanDorselaer precipitated a line shuffle that put Cunningham in what will be his college position at Charlotte in 2024.
Less line movement that flexes VanDorselaer or keeps him in tight formations will be a wrinkle Carroll hopes benefits running and short-passing games that lost 7,000-yard career rusher Owen Allen (Air Force commit).
As for Cunningham, every line needs its pilot. Why not go bigger, more aggressive and rather shifty at center?
“We are way more athletic [than last season],” Cunningham said of a deep offensive line group that includes junior Trent Wilson. “Our communication is the best in the state. We know what’s happening. There’s no question when that ball is snapped.”
For decades, offensive linemen at Carroll have followed natural progressions into leadership roles. It’s no surprise quarterbacks and running backs reap the benefit over and over. Coincidences don’t just keep happening.
“He started at right tackle as a sophomore and held his own against the best in the state,” Carroll offensive coordinator and line coach Chris Smith said. “I think he’s a natural center. This move is going to be good for him and us.”
As a sophomore, Cunningham was probably 30 pounds lighter than now, but his ability to move compensated for undeveloped strength and earned him a spot alongside older linemen.
His parents kept him out of tackle football until sixth grade, but Cunningham was quite the flag football defensive back. His other sport was golf, where he dusts most of his Dragon buddies shooting in the low 90s. Not great, but it’s only a side hustle.
“I do OK and get it around,” Cunningham said. “I don’t play much, but they never beat me.”
Charlotte associate head coach/offensive line coach Kyle DeVan stuck with Cunningham after extending him an offer to play for Colorado. DeVan was part of a house-cleaning in Boulder to begin the Deion Sanders era, and Cunningham said his visit to Charlotte in June left no question.
“Coach DeVan and I had been talking a long time,” Cunningham said. “I fell in love with Charlotte. It felt like home. That’s my spot.”
If the Dragons are destined in 2023 to flirt with another state title, Cunningham will be one of the seniors to lead them there, unmistakably.
“It looks to me like we could be special,” he said. “From the offensive line standpoint, we’ll be able to dominate and move defenses back. We’ll be athletic, and we trust the defense with our lives. It’s going to be a very good dynamic.”