'Horns set to meet new challenges head
By MATT HILL
MOUNTAIN CITY -- With the Johnson County Longhorns
losing nine offensive starters from last year, there are some
big shoes to fill.
But Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood thinks his
squad will be like a pair of Nike tennis shoes. They'll just
The 2001 Johnson County football team is a speedy
bunch that has found replacements for stars like quarterback
Chris Gambill, tailback Chris Dunn and linebacker Michael
Pennington. But if these Longhorns are going to equal or better
last season's mark of 8-3, they will have to do it against
The Longhorns are moving up from the Class 2A
Watauga Conference, into the Class 4A Big Eight Conference,
which features teams like Elizabethton and Tennessee High.
"It's going to be tough," Atwood said. "We actually
have a little better team speed, so we might be able to match
up just a little better with the athletes. But our size is
"We're just going to have to open up the offense
and put our best athletes on defense."
The Longhorns pretty much had no choice but to
move up two levels. Their school enrollment was too high to
stay in Class 2A, and there is only one local team in Region
Johnson County will try to make the best of the
situation despite having a very inexperienced offense.
That offense will feature two quarterbacks. Adam
Johnson has the most experience, but Jason Poteet impressed
Atwood early on and has thrown himself into the mix.
"I'm sure they're both going to play early on,"
With the jump to Class 4A, Atwood wants to open
it up more for his quarterbacks.
"We're going to have to open up our offense and
throw the ball a lot more than we have," Atwood said.
Josh Rich was scheduled to be the starting tailback,
but recently injured his hand and will miss the first of the
season. But Rich should be a factor at some point, as he rushed
for over 500 yards last year backing up Dunn.
That means Justin Allen will most likely be the
starting tailback when the season kicks off next Friday night.
Matt Eggers will also see some time at tailback.
Wes Hamby gets the nod at fullback. He is a returning
starter at that position. The slotback position is in the
hands of Michael Reid when the Longhorns are in a three-back
Junior Paisley and football newcomer Tommy Short
will be the receivers. Short is a basketball and track star
for the Longhorns.
"He's probably the best athlete we have," Atwood
The other returning starter on offense is Tolby
Lowe. He will be manning the right guard position.
Joining Lowe on the line is left tackle Matt
Dunn, left guard Josh Price, center Justin Bishop, right tackle
Bill McMillian and tight end Ricky Shaw.
The Longhorns return seven starters on a defense
that Atwood is very high on.
"I feel good about our defense," Atwood said.
"We've got a little more team speed than we have in the past."
Jesse Cranford and Bishop return at the defensive
end spots, while Lowe and McMillian will be the tackles.
Lowe believes both the offensive and defensive
lines should be solid, and also thinks he will do well personally.
"We worked out hard in the weight room this summer,"
Lowe said. "We've got a good strength coach that pushes us
to our limits. I believe I'll be able to compete with anybody
else on any other team."
Hamby and Adam Leonard will be the inside linebackers.
The outside linebacker spots are in the hands of Aaron Payne
and Lucas Moreno. Eggers should also contribute heavily at
Reid and Allen are starting at the corners, but
Rich will see time there once he returns from injury.
Time at the free safety spot will be split between
Short and Johnson.
Leonard will handle the punting and kicking duties.
With the Longhorns moving up, coupled with the
loss of several key players, expectations are a little lower.
But Atwood still believes Johnson County can succeed in 2001.
"We're looking to finish somewhere in the middle,"
Atwood said. "But we're really going to have to play well."