Longhorns start to break in large crop of untested players

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--After losing 17 seniors from last year's football team, Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood spent most of spring practice getting familiar with new players.
   Players that have shown they could do great things by the time they leave JCHS.
   The Longhorns return less than a handful of starters from a team that went 1-9 and finished seventh in the Mountain Lakes Conference during 2003, but the junior varsity and freshman teams had good seasons last year and they will be counted on to try and lead the Longhorns back to the playoffs.
   Last year ended three straight appearances in the postseason for the Longhorns.
   Atwood thinks it could take a year, but the Longhorns looked poised to return to their winning ways of the last few years.
   "We've got a lot of good people," Atwood said. "This year's team will basically be last year's JV team, and we had a good JV season. The freshman group is good (will be sophomores). They could do something special in a couple of years, but they're awfully young to be playing in this league.
   Last year's freshman team contended for the Mountain Lakes championship, and several of them will play big roles on the squad.
   None may be bigger than Jeff Brinker's.
   Brinker will replace Carson-Newman signee Adam Johnson as the Longhorn quarterback. While Johnson had a cannon for an arm, Atwood says that Brinker will do a lot of his damage on the ground.
   "I think he will be pretty solid," Atwood said. "He won't be a drop-back thrower. He runs out of the pocket. Right now he runs it better than he throws it. He's trying to learn the plays and make the offense run.
   "He's definitely going to be a good quarterback. He can throw it when he has to, we just need to get him out of the pocket."
   Probably the guy that saw the most time on varsity last year as a freshman was Thomas Moore. Atwood thinks the sky is the limit for him.
   "Thomas is going to have three good years at linebacker, and maybe a little fullback, too," Atwood said.
   T.R. Smith saw some action at tailback last year as a freshman, while Nathan Paisley also brings some speed to the table.
   Horace Simpson and Bobby Mounts are also rising sophomores that should be strong linemen for the 'Horns.
   As for the seniors, Atwood expects Daniel Cranford and Adam Johnson to be leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
   "I expect them to be leaders on this team," Atwood said. "Daniel will be counted on at nose guard and will be running some at tailback. People are having a hard time blocking him. Adam will be playing defensive end and center."
   One rising senior that didn't participate in spring drills was tailback Jonah Dunn. Dunn continues to be hampered by injuries after a having a solid sophomore season two years ago.
   "We're hoping Jonah will get healthy," Atwood said.
   A couple of juniors that impressed Atwood on defense during the spring were Mitchell Harper and Tommy Gregg.
   "Our defense is going to be our strong point," Atwood said.
   The defense was the strong point last year, but Atwood knows his team will have to score points in order to win. Last year, the Longhorns were in almost every game they played, but couldn't score enough points in most contests.
   According to Atwood, working on the offense was a key focal point of this year's spring practice.
   "We worked on our offense," Atwood said. "Last year we changed and changed. This year, we're going to a certain offense and sticking with it and try to do it right."
   The Longhorns had scrimmages against Volunteer and David Crockett during the spring session, basically just to throw these young kids into the fire.
   Atwood was well-pleased.
   "We played all right against Volunteer and held our own against Crockett," Atwood said. "I was pleased with the scrimmages."
   Even though spring practice is over with and school lets out later this week in Johnson County, Atwood knows that over the summer will be where the Longhorns prepare for this season.
   "We're trying to do conditioning and weightlifting over the summer," he said. "Hopefully, we will come back in August ready to go."