Rangers, 'Dogs 'Landers work on passing skills

By Wes Holtsclaw
Throughout many sections of the state, football squads are gearing up with early workouts and passing league scrimmages.
This year, Goddard Field held the training for Unaka, Hampton, Cloudland, Johnson County, Mitchell County (N.C.) and Avery County (N.C.).
The coaches used the workouts to develop younger players at skill positions, offensively and defensively.
Everyone but the big men in the trenches participated, gearing up for the first official week of practice.
The host Rangers are not a passing team, but it was a good way to get the players out for an additional week of work.
"Passing league didn't do as much for us because of the offense we run," said Ranger coach Mike Ensor. "We are run oriented and we misdirect. We do throw at times, a lot of waggles and short things, but the kids get to throw and catch and it gets them a week of conditioning, which is huge.
"Some jump right in and it helps us with our pass defense."
Brandon Irick is positioned to take the helm at quarterback again this year, while Cody Hurley will back him up and run a lot out of tailback and wingback, with Charles Lee and Andrew Richardson seeing a lot of time.
The season's big focus, however, will be on 1,000-yard rusher Joey Parlier.
"The season will go on how Joey goes," Ensor said. "If he has 100 yards a game on 20 carries, then our wingback can get 75-100 yards on a few carries, we've got a good chance to win the ball game."
The Rangers have had good numbers come out, but the loss of two starters in Rusty Holtsclaw and Josh Jones, who have decided to concentrate on basketball, will somewhat hurt their depth.
"Our numbers have looked good at times in the spring," said Ensor. "(Losing the two starters) hurt our depth a bit, but we've had 18-20 work all summer. Once school starts the total will be better."
Unaka will play a strictly 1-A schedule this year, which will see an improvement in the squad and give them an opportunity to win more ballgames.
"The schedule change is a big benefit to our team," the coach said. "We were scheduled to play Cosby twice, but their coach resigned, so we're trying to find a game for zero week. The kids feel like they have a chance to win. Last year, against teams like Unicoi, Claiborne and Hampton, we could play with them a half and then they wore us out."
The defending Watauga Conference champion Bulldogs had a strong week of work at Unaka High School with scrimmages against the Rangers and Mitchell County.
Entering his 36th year as head coach, J.C. Campbell sees some positives in the annual passing league.
"We get the kids a week early and they like to throw and catch," said Campbell. "It gives them a chance to get out and have some fun. You can learn things, what passes you can throw good and you can't."
Mitchell Morton will again take the helm of the Bulldog squad at the quarterback position, but a big question mark will be at the running back slot.
"(Mitchell's) throwing pretty well," Campbell said. "But we're pretty thin at running back. We've had a couple hurt. We'll have to wait and see, but there might be a good one out there."
CLOUDLAND: The Highlanders have had a visibly weak spot in the defensive secondary when they faced passing offenses.
Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford wanted to try new things with younger players to prepare them for the air attacks many teams resort to against a tough, run-defensive unit such as the 'Landers.
"We got a lot of defensive stuff in and it's been something we can do," said Lunsford. "It's taught us some things, but it's a lot of fun for the kids and gives us an extra week to work with them.
"Next week, it's going to be a lot of hard work and that's what its about," he said. "It was good to give the JV an opportunity to do some things with man and zone coverage."
The 'Landers have scrimmages planned against Pigeon Forge, David Crockett, Chuckey Doak and Johnson County.