Highlanders working to maintain tradition

By Tim Chambers
STAR STAFF
tchambers@starhq.com

   When the famous SS Minnow was about to be shipped wrecked on a desert isle, the skipper called out to Gilligan, "get to work little buddy, we got several holes to repair."
   Thus is the case with the Cloudland Highlander football program this fall.
   The first question is how do you replace the king and his court? Mike Lunsford and Mark Byrd were more popular in Roan Mountain than Elvis was in Memphis.
   Byrd, the Tusculum College signee, rewrote the Highlander football record book, while Lunsford's is regarded as one of the finest gridiron coaches to ever grace the sidelines in Tennessee high school football.
   The Highlanders handed the reins to longtime assistant coach Gary Keith to fill the void after Lunsford's resignation.
   "Mike and I have been the best of friends for a number of years," stated Keith. "We hope to try and carry on what Mike has worked so hard to build here at Cloudland High School."
   Toby King will step in at quarterback, and Keith likes what he sees in his senior signal caller.
   "Toby had a great spring practice," Keith said. "He shows tremendous leadership ability and is very familiar with the offense."
   King was a starter at wide receiver last season. Keith was impressed with running backs Jonah Horney and Cody Jones this spring.
   "It's going to be tough to replace three-year starter and two time all-state running back (Dakota Benfield)," said Keith.
   Horney will split time between tailback and fullback. He runs hard and has good quickness to be his size, (5'11 205).
   Jones came out midway through last season and left a mark on the coaching staff.
   "Cody is a good athlete who will help us at tailback and defensive back," added Keith.
   Another player who shinned during spring practice was tight end Jon Pritchard. Bubba Dugger also impressed the staff.
   One concern of Keith's is how to replace the offensive line?
   When you lose a 260-pound center (Zack Cooke), two 300-pound tackles (Jake Gibbs, Chris Sheets) and a 230-pound guard (Jeff Lunsford), who Keith said was as good a lineman to ever play at Cloudland, the reason for anxiety is warranted.
   Jonathan Webb will fill one hole in the line but the answer according to Keith lies in the weight room.
   "Our players have got to realize that our past success was partly due to the hard work our former players put forth in the weight room during the off season," he said.
   "With teams like Sullivan East and Cherokee on the schedule, we've got to work our tails off to be successful."
   Robbie Turbyfill, Gary Oaks and Gary Lewis will assist Keith while Jon Julian will help out along with coaching the junior high program.
   "Robbie played for Coach Lunsford and knows the offense," added Keith.
   The defense is in good hands with Coach Oaks, another Cloudland football icon, calling the shots.
   Keith stated that former assistant Darrell Brewer is now the head coach at Avery County and last year's assistant Tommy Puckett is also on the staff. Bo Manis, who worked with the defense last season, is doing his student teaching at Avery and will not be involved as well.
   "I just hope I can be half the motivator that Coach Lunsford was," added Keith. "He had a special way of getting the most out of every kid that played."
   "When Jerry White took over for Buck VanHuss at Hampton it was tough the first few years, and likewise when Tommy Jenkins stepped in for Dave Rider at Elizabethton. Mike built a dynasty in his tenure at Cloudland. We'll do our best to keep up the standard."