Avery provides preseason test for Longhorns

  By Marvin Birchfield
  star staff
  mbirchfield@starhq.com
  NEWLAND, N.C. -- The Johnson County Longhorns had their first taste of serious competition on the year Monday, as they traveled to Avery County to scrimmage a promising and potentially explosive Viking offense.
  Johnson County had a heartbreaking three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Mountain Lakes Conference last season, which ended their chances of a postseason game.
  The 'Horns still showed signs of strength on defense, but the effort Monday still raises some question with their defensive backfield.
  "We feel like our defense is going to be our strong point again, and our defensive speed is better, even though you couldn't tell it against these guys," said Johnson County coach Mike Atwood. "Our defensive backfield needs some work and offensive backfield does too, but we're about where I thought we'd be coming in."
  There is still a lot of preparation that needs to be worked on for Johnson County, but the 'Horns seem to have learned some things from their first encounter in trying to slow down a talented group on the other side of the field.
  "We've still got a lot of work to do -- especially on the offensive side of the ball, but I was pleased with our effort," said Atwood. "We know what we need to fix right now."
  The 'Horns had little success with marching the ball down the field, as they were trying some new things to get the offense rolling.
  "We tried to put in a few different sets on offense, but it didn't work out today," Atwood said. "They put 11 in the box against us. When we ran our power-I, I thought we did all right."
  Avery County was more successful than the 'Horns at moving the ball, as a couple of Viking players connected on some big plays, just like last season.
  "They're a good football team, and I'm not as disappointed as I would like them to think I was," said Atwood. "We won't see as good a skill people as what they had on the outside. It was a good scrimmage for us. When we went down in distance, I think we held our own."
  As far as things for Avery County, the first response from former Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford and now present offensive coordinator for the Vikings was "Air Lunsford."
  "We have a little bit different team than what I've had in the past -- we throw it around," said Lunsford. "We've spent a lot of time on it, and we've got to continue to get better and we will."
  The most critical key in Avery's season will be is how the offensive line holds up to give the big playmakers the needed time.
  "We need to get our linemen a little more physical and working inside," said Lunsford. "It went pretty good for us, but this is only the second day we've hit, so I was very pleased, even though we line up wrong sometimes. It'll take them a little time to learn that."
  Former Cloudland defensive coordinator Darrell Brewer, who is now the head coach of Avery County, thinks the deciding factor on how things go for the Viking is the way the line adapts from being a pass block team to becoming run oriented.
  "I feel like we've got a ways to go with our line -- we're still flip-flopping people around," said Brewer. "They're not coming off the ball like we want them to, but as the scrimmage went on I think they got better.
  "I felt like it was a good scrimmage and the reason I called Johnson County was because they're physical, and that's what we need to be."
  One of the key players for Avery County this season will be all-conference performer Josh Johnson, who was on the receiving end of several nice passes, with the last one coming over the middle for a touchdown.
  "My goal this season is to win the Highland Conference, and not getting beat at home," said Johnson. "I just plan on coming out and playing hard every game and try not to get intimidated."
  The trigger man for the Vikings will be Ricky Spradling, who was also all-conference player last season, as his craftiness on his feet and ability to put the ball in the air is a key asset.
  This was the case when the Vikings were on offense, as a couple of nice jukes and display of speed came from Spradling along with a couple of touchdown passes.
  "We just need to get some rust off right now. Our line isn't as quick and my spirals are not as tight and our receivers hands are not broken in right yet," said Spradling. "I think by our first game, though, we'll be ready."