Unaka set to begin Ensor era

By Marvin Birchfield

   Looking to lay the first block of a building effort, the Unaka Rangers kick off their football season on Friday as they travel to face Claiborne County trying to avenge last year's loss.
   It was Claiborne County that won last season by the final of 38-14, but this year's Ranger team is a little more experienced and improved, according to Unaka head coach Mike Ensor.
   "Looking at the films from last season in the opening game, we were pitiful," said Ensor. "We had four or five freshmen and sophomores starting that had never played a varsity game, so essentially we had eight or nine starting for the first time."
   Ensor says they didn't line up right where the ball was being ran, and those are the things they have to correct.
   "That kind of stuff we are going to eliminate, and we're doing better. We're a much improved team from what we was last year," said Ensor.
   One test for Unaka will be controlling Claiborne's big line and the speed it possesses.
   "They're pretty athletic from what I understand, but our line is our strong point, and they've got a big line," Ensor said. "But I think we can match-up a little bit with them."
   Ensor's biggest concern is the fact that Claiborne runs the Wing-T offense, and that usually produces some big plays.
   "They run the Wing-T offense with a lot of misdirections and a chance to break big plays, so we've got to keep the ball in our hands and eat up large chunks of clock," said Ensor.
   Ensor is confident that his offense can move the ball, but the main key is to be able to capitalize when it gets close to the goal.
   "I think we can move the ball on them. We're not blessed with bursting speed, but we do have some size across the front," said Ensor. "You have to score when you get opportunities, and if they turn the ball over or we get a long drive, we have to be able to punch it in."
   Claiborne's season started last Friday, when they were victorious in a 44-8 final over Thomas Walker of Virginia.
   Claiborne finished the season at 4-6 last year, but they expect to improve on that mark, says Claiborne County head coach Blair Harrison.
   "I think we're a better team than what we were last year at this point, but there is still a lot of positions that we have to fill," said Harrison.
   The line is what Harrison believes will be the team's stronghold going into Friday night, and this might be the deciding factor of the game.
   "I think our offensive and defensive lines do a great job," Harrison said. "They all are big and can move, so I think that will be a big advantage for us."
   In the backfield it will be a new group from last year, but Claiborne should still have plenty of experience.
   "We're starting four seniors in the backfield and it's coming along," Harrison said. "They are getting better everyday and doing a good job."
   One weak point of Claiborne is its kicking game, which sometimes can decide whether you win or lose in close ballgames.
   "Our kicking game absolutely needs to be overhauled," Harrison said. "We cannot kick, so that's something we definitely need to improve on."
   Harrison says he doesn't know that much about Unaka, but after talking to Coach Ensor he feels like the Rangers are improved and it will be a more competitive game than last season.
   "I talked to the coach, and he feels like he's got a pretty good team, so maybe it will be a better game than last year," said Harrison.
   Ensor is not quite sure what to expect either, but he thinks his squad will be ready to play and give the best effort possible.
   "We expect to go out and play hard," he said. "We haven't seen Claiborne play, but anytime you play a 3-A school and make a two division jump it's going to be tough."