Preparations going well for Cloudland

By Travis Brown
STAR STAFF
tbrown@starhq.com

   Last year's storybook campaign ended on a sour note for the Cloudland Highlanders, and that bitter taste has motivated this year's boys in blue to new heights.
   Amid skepticism that the 'Landers can make it back to the highest level, head coach Mike Lunsford and his boys have worked hard this off-season to fill in the gaps of graduation, and to improve in some areas.
   Heavy favorites to win their conference, the 'Landers are not satisfied with a mere league title. They look to take it on the road once again, with the last stop to be in Mufreesboro.
   However, a few question marks will have to be answered before the 'Landers once again cruise past the White Way Grill. Those questions are in the defensive backfield, and on the offensive line.
   In two preseason scrimmages, the Highlanders still appear to be hitting on all cylinders, despite the loss of personnel. Still, the early-season dominance displayed by last year's Cloudland team may take until mid-season to recapture.
   The first assignment for Coach Lunsford will be the re-staffing of his offensive line, and in this department the 'Landers will need a little more polishing, However, Lunsford has remained upbeat about his front five as offseason workouts have produced some strong athletes.
   This season the 'Landers are hoping to do what they do best, bust their opponents in the face and ram the ball downfield.
   Last season that philosophy was a big success, but that was with a veteran offensive line leading the way. This season the tackle positions must be filled in order to dominate the trenches, and Lunsford has a group of youngsters vying for the honor
   "We've tried several different looks up front," Lunsford said. "As of right now it's still up in the air, but the competition is making us better."
   Secondly the Highlanders must make a renewed effort to defend the pass. With a strong linebacking corps and good interior play, cornerbacks should be able to focus more on picking off passes rather than pursuing ballcarriers.
   In the defensive backfield the 'Landers showed a hint of weakness in last year's championship matchup with Ezell-Harding, then again so would any other team in 1-A.
   Despite being outmatched by a young man who now goes to Vanderbilt, Lunsford is still hoping to do a better job in the secondary.
   "Anytime we do poorly in an aspect of the game, we as a coaching staff must focus on that area and improve it," said Lunsford. "We're practicing better than we were last year, and I hope it pays off."
   With the remainder of the 'Lander roster remaining healthy, the 2002 campaign should be an interesting one to say the least.
   With the Killer B's and the swarming D still intact, one thing is for certain, there will be lots of Byrd-watching at Orr Field this season.
   For a full in depth preview of the Highlanders, check out the upcoming football tab, which will be released Aug 23rd.