Brandon Duncan was an All-AAC Second Team member as a defenseman in 2018.

"Crossroads" Star Brandon Duncan Thrives at Montreat in NAIA

One the top moments in Brandon Duncan’s life played out for thousands of lacrosse fans to witness. He and his Charlotte Secondary teammates were the subjects of the ESPN Films documentary “Crossroads,” which made its television debut Aug. 23.

After an overtime win with Charlotte Secondary, Duncan, who started playing lacrosse just a year prior, was approached by Montreat College coach Will McMinn. He asked Duncan if he wanted to play college lacrosse — a dream that seemed far out of reach to the player that was just mastering the basics of the game.

“I want you to come play for me,” McMinn said. "You go to college to get a degree first. Lacrosse is second. You’re going to go to school to be a better man. If you get to school and become a better man, mission accomplished.”

“When Coach McMinn approached me, it felt nice because somebody actually wanted me to play on their team,” Duncan said. “I was telling myself, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be looked at by colleges. This is my 11th-grade year, so ain’t no college coaches looking for me to play for their team now. Most people start to get recruited in the ninth grade.’ So when he walked up to me and told me that, I wasn’t expecting it. It changed my life forever.”

"Most people start to get recruited in the ninth grade. So when he walked up to me and told me that, I wasn’t expecting it. It changed my life forever." — Brandon Duncan

It was a moment that brought a smile to the face of Duncan, who played out his Charlotte Secondary career and won a North Carolina Club State Championship his senior season. After spending a semester at Central Piedmont Community College to help boost his grades, he headed to Montreat College to start his college career.

At Montreat, now led by coach Ethan Kamholtz, Duncan has a chance to attend college and play the sport he loves — an opportunity presented to children at Charlotte Secondary thanks to coach Bobby Selkin. Thanks to scholarships allotted by the school, he’s getting money to pursue his dream, too.

Montreat is one of 34 schools in the country to offer men’s lacrosse as part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), a college athletics organization that offers athletic scholarships and features up to 65,000 student-athletes.

The NAIA added men’s and women’s lacrosse as an “emerging sport” in 2015 and it has since risen to an invitational sport. All the while, it has added 34 men’s programs and 37 women’s programs. Each school receives scholarship money and can pay student-athletes, just like the NCAA.

Just three years young, the NAIA is a growing outlet where students can continue playing lacrosse in college. 

“I’m excited to see and be a part of the beginning of NAIA lacrosse world, as it continues to grow and legitimizes itself with the level of competition, coaching staff and gear,” Kamholtz said. "It’s going to be pretty well-funded and these guys are going to get a good experience playing at the next level and get an opportunity that they might not have had otherwise.”

Now a junior at Montreat, Duncan is pursuing a marketing degree while receiving financial aid to play lacrosse. Through the NAIA’s scholarship funds, Montreat was able to offer Duncan a portion of his tuition.

Kamholtz, who played college lacrosse at Keuka (NCAA) and Liberty (MCLA), said the level of scholarship money Montreat receives is on par with the Division II level. He said the opportunity for scholarships certainly helps gain traction with recruits.

“There’s no full rides, but everyone is on a partial scholarship,” he said. “We take into account your academics, your character and what you can deliver on the field. Then we make an offer based on that. Any time you mention athletic scholarships to a high school kid, their eyes are going to light up.”

That’s what happened with Duncan, whose ACT scores were not high enough to attend Montreat straight from Charlotte Secondary. He took a semester at Central Piedmont to register a strong GPA and transfer into Montreat.

He had no idea about NAIA lacrosse until Montreat had shown interest. Once he did his research, he was shocked to find the array of schools playing in the NAIA. There were teams from Kentucky, Missouri and other areas Duncan had no idea played lacrosse.

Once he got to Montreat, he felt right at home. The level of lacrosse was a perfect fit.

“[Bigger schools] recruit people that have been playing since they were babies,” he said. “I started my junior year. When I came here, they said, ‘Not only are we going to teach you how to be a lacrosse player, but we’re also going to teach you how to be an adult.’ They’re out there trying to help us better ourselves.”

Duncan broke onto the scene as a defenseman, starting eight games in his first season in 2017. He followed that up with 11 starts last spring, adding 29 ground balls and nine caused turnovers. 

Montreat ended the season at 6-11 — the best record in program's young history. Kamholtz credited Duncan with helping his team reach new heights.


Duncan was approached at a tournament by then-Montreat coach Will McMinn about play college lacrosse in the NAIA.

“[Duncan] was a little rough around the edges in terms of specific lacrosse skills,” he said. “But he was just a raw athlete with a big heart. He has come such a long way since then. ... I heard him say, ‘Man, I’m just happy to be out here playing college lacrosse.’ It’s really cool. I notice Brandon’s work ethic in the classroom has grown tremendously as well.”

Duncan sat at a table with his Montreat teammates and coaches in early May. He listened as the Appalachian Athletic Conference awards banquet continued with the All-AAC honors.

The first-team honorees were named and Duncan wasn’t surprised he didn’t hear his name. He wasn’t expecting to hear it at any point.

“‘OK, I’m not going to be on that because clearly they didn’t see me at all,’” he said to himself.

But as the second team rolled through, he heard the words, “Brandon Duncan, Montreat.” It took a few moments for it to sink in, but once Kamholtz began clapping, Duncan realized he had earned All-AAC honors.

“I looked at [my teammates] like, ‘What’s going on? Why are they calling my name?’” he said. “My coach looked at me and he just kept clapping and I walked up on stage. I was shocked.”

It was the pinnacle in Duncan’s lacrosse career — an honor he could not have envisioned when he picked up the game at Charlotte Secondary. But because of the chance provided to him by Coach McMinn, Montreat and the NAIA, he’s excelling both on the field and off it.

What’s next?

Duncan wants to attend engineering school after his career is over. The sky is the limit, and he’s ready to share his journey to anyone that wants to listen.

“I want to tell my story because I know I’m not the only one with the same story,” he said. “I know there are people going through the same thing, even if it’s with a different sport. I just want people to know you need to always be yourself.”