Jr. Highlanders  look to contend

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The competition is much closer this year in the Little Watauga Conference, and the Cloudland Junior Highlanders expect to be in the mix of things.
   At this point, Cloudland is getting prepared for its season opener against Johnson County at Orr Field on Thursday. Head coach Robbie Turbyfill believes the Junior Highlanders make a good run this season.
   "We've got the potential to be a decent team if we all come together," Turbyfill said. "We're loaded in eighth graders and I've got a lot of backs, but on the line we're a little thin. We've got a lot of speed, but we're very inexperienced."
   Things will be much simpler for Cloudland this season as it cut back on offensive and defensive formations.
   "I hope we can not run as many formations and just do the plays right," the coach said. "On defense, we want to be very aggressive with a lot of blitzing. I hope our defensive backs could just cover up for it with linebackers. We've got a good linebacking core."
   At the helm of this year's squad is eighth-grade athlete Michael Lunsford. Lunsford will specialize at tailback, fullback and linebacker. He will be joined by Billy Markland and Michael Austin during the rotation.
   Josh Dugger will execute the speed attack for Cloudland. One of the fastest players in the league, Dugger placed second in the fastest back contest in the Jamboree.
   "Well, I think if our line blocks and we hit our holes, we should do alright," said Lunsford. "We did fine the other day (at the jamboree), it's just blocking and picking up our assignments and stuff."
   "We've got a ton of backs, Billy, Mike Austin and Dugger, who's probably the fastest person in the league," he said. "Hopefully, I can do something."
   Turbyfill expects big things from Cody Fields, Brandon Winchester and Christian Montgomery on the line.
   Seventh graders Nick Sluder and Justin Kodak will be stepping up as the starting corners and wide receivers. However, this year's Cloudland team took a hit as many seventh graders will continue to play pee-wee ball.
   Eighth grader Jonathan Moore will be the signal-caller for Cloudland. In his first year at the position, he is improving and is expected to be a key player on this team.
   "He's never played it before," Turbyfill said. "But he's stepped in and done a good job learning the plays. He does a good job."
   Turbyfill believes the conference will be tight this year, with Hampton being the top squad.
   "Right now it looks like Hampton's the top dog," he said. "(Dustin) Jaynes wasn't at the jamboree, but when they get him they'll be the best team. Johnson County's right behind them, and Unaka and Happy Valley."
   "Happy Valley's always strong and Unaka's coming along," he added. "This is going to be the toughest conference in the five years I've been coaching. This is the closest the teams have been that I've seen."
   Game time for Thursday's home opener against Johnson County is 6 p.m.