Hit hard by graduation, Junior Warriors try to stay on winning track

By Marvin Birchfield

   The Happy Valley Junior Warriors will try to defend their Little Watauga title this season, as they search for answers in replacing some key players from last year's ballclub.
   "Our numbers are down from last year, so we weren't real excited coming in, but our kids are doing a lot better than we thought they would," said Happy Valley coach Alex Payne.
   The Warriors finished the season at 9-1 last year, edging out Johnson County to claim first place, but it won't be as easy this time around as the speed of the team is not what it was a year ago.
   "We don't think we will be going 80 yards on one play, but we do have a couple of backs that run hard," Payne said, "and if we can get them running north and south then we think we can move the sticks."
   Logan Birchfield and Francisco Bourquez will be in the backfield for the Warriors, spots previously held by Ryan Garland and Will Lowe.
   "We really lost four great athletes from last year, but we want to forget about that and put the focus in what happens with these kids this season," said Payne.
   Look for Tony Carr to be a key player on the line, along with a few others that could help keep the Warriors competitive.
   "Tony Carr is definitely going to be the standout at center, and Brandon Jaynes on the end has really stepped it up this year," said Payne.
   Daniel Shankle will be taking the snaps for the Warriors at the quarterback position, and Payne says he's pleased so far with the way he has performed.
   "Daniel Shankle is doing a good job at executing the offense, and he doing the things we've asked him to so far," said Payne.
   On the defensive side of things, the Warriors quickness has suffered from what it was, so they must improve fundamentally in order to compensate.
   "We lost a lot of team speed and we're going to have to work around that, so we have to play sound fundamental defense getting everyone involved and just hit," said Payne.
   As far as size goes, the Warriors are in pretty good shape, and that may be a key for them in continuing their success.
   "We've got decent size," Payne said. "If we will get off the ball and block...it depends on what kind of technique they use, how hard they want to work, and how much they want to improve."
   Payne thinks the key to the Warriors' success this season will be holding onto the ball and executing on offense.
   "If our kids want to hustle and play mistake-free football, we may have to do in 10 to 12 plays what we did in two plays last year," said Payne.
   Another key element for Happy Valley is being able to not give up big plays on defense.
   "Defensively just tackling and wrapping up, and playing sound containment and gap responsibility. We need to be strong fundamentally enough to avoid the big play," said Payne.
   The Warriors were defeated only one time last year with a loss to Johnson County in the regular season, but it's going to be much more difficult to repeat that with key positions having to be filled.
   "We're going to take it one game at a time, and that's what we tried to do last year but didn't always do it," Payne said. "Once we did do it things turned around for us."
   As far as who Payne thinks is going to be the top contenders for the conference, he says it will probably be between the Johnson County and Hampton.
   "Hampton has a good back coming back that I know of, and Mountain City certainly looked tough in the fifth quarter last year, and I hear they've got a stud horse or two since last year," said Payne.
   Payne says he would like to thank his staff, which consists of Alex Campbell, Josh Wandell, Jason Jarrett and Andy Hilton.
   "I've got a very sound staff, and if it wasn't for those guys we wouldn't have been in the picture last year, and I would like to thank them and our kids for hanging in there," says Payne.