M.E. Warriors define team in season of possibilities   

from staff reports
  JOHNSON CITY -- The Mountain Empire Warriors are football players that have come up through some big-time Division 1A colleges such as the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Marshall University.
  Many players have attended NFL camps and all still have aspirations to play on Sundays.
  In the North American Football League (NAFL), athletes play for tapes of the games to show their ability against quality competition to NFL scouts. They are paid, professional players, but the main goal of almost each of them is to build a resume that one day will take them to the big league.
  You would think in such a league players would do whatever they could to get as many stats as possible. Running backs would be trying to rack up carries and yards. Receivers would be screaming for the ball to go farther than 100 yards. Quarterbacks would want to throw the ball every down to get some gaudy, NFL-impressive statistics.
  You would think it would create a league of selfish players in most arguably the biggest team sport.
  You would be wrong.
  On a team with Brandon Walker, Aaron Claridy and Chuck Sutton in the backfield, Donny LaFleur -- an unheralded linebacker-turned-fullback -- is getting more carries than all of the halfbacks combined.
  When asked about the system that's been so generous to him, he sounds as surprised as anyone.
  As LaFleur tells it, "I've never run the ball before, so this is all new to me."
  Walker averaged 19 carries a game in 1999, his senior season at East Tennessee State. His goal this season?
  "To win a championship," he said.
  Even with Bobby Graham from UT, and ETSU products Charvin Clark and Pedro Edison lining up as receiving threats, the team is sticking to its multiple-option game designed to deceive. It attacks when and where the defenders least expect it.
  But when it hits, it hits hard.
  The offense started its second game against the Carolina Storm the same as it's first. LaFleur got the first carry after having 10 carries in the first game. A couple of plays later, quarterback Kente Troupe read the man coverage on Clark and wasted no time checking to a fade route for 43 yards. It was Clark's first catch in five quarters.
  It gashed the Storm's shutout defense to their 5-yard line. The entire defense was on its heels. Three plays later, LaFleur cracked the end zone for the first touchdown and what would be the winning score.
  "The offense is treating me pretty nicely right now," Clark said. "We are 2-0 right now, so I don't have any complaints. A win's a win. I don't care what I do in the game."
  Everybody watching the Warriors has seen them dominate the competition and wonders how good this team really is. And everybody's still waiting for the answer. They started the season as one of 120 teams in the NAFL. The top 32 make the playoffs. At 2-0, are they good enough to make the playoffs? Definitely. Are they championship caliber? Right now, nobody knows.
  Their next opponent is on their own quest for a championship. The Asheville Grizzlies were 12-3 last year in the NAFL, and made it to the national semifinals. They have high expectations this year after blowing out the Virginia Crimson Cardinals 56-0 last weekend. The Mountain Empire Warriors are standing directly in their path to the promise land.
  The Grizzlies and the Warriors play an unusual back-to-back series against one another with Round 1 coming Saturday night in Johnson City. If familiarity breeds contempt, then the two teams should despise each other in a couple of weeks
  The unselfishness of the Warriors to a man is shocking. In a game of inches, these players are working together as a cohesive unit in an offense that might make anybody a star on any given night. They have a defense that has 11 players running toward the ball on every play. The Carolina Storm averaged less than a yard per carry and were tackled 5 yards deep on many plays.
  "On certain defenses you have three or four guys with speed," said linebackerDerrick Fudge. "On our team we have 11 that can run. So if you beat one guy, you've got another 10 coming behind you. It's everybody, not just the linebackers. Everybody can run."
  Workman-like LB Ben Mebane totaled eight tackles against the storm and can't stop praising the defensive lineman that made it possible
  "They (the defensive line) were doing a good job at holding their front up and I was just going where the ball was," he said.
  The sum of the Warriors is proving to be better than the individual parts. A team has emerged that dreams of bringing a championship home to the Tri-Cities.
  The 2-0 Mountain Empire Warriors take on the 1-0 Asheville Grizzlies Saturday night at Spurrier Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the gates or at Pugs Subs in downtown Johnson City, Mojos in the Johnson City Mall, Cow and Coffee in the Roan Center, or by calling (423) 928-4324.