That means putting the ball in the hands of Cloudland’s all-state running back Jordan Coffey, who had 1,781 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns overall last season. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Coffey charges ahead at full steam entering his senior season with the Highlanders. However, it comes after he was threatened to be benched just 12 months earlier.
Coffey, a member of the 2017 Johnson City Press Elite 11 team, suffered a collarbone injury and missed most of his sophomore season. When he came back for his junior year, he proved tentative until a heart-to-heart meeting with Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford.
"He was a little gun shy," Lunsford said. "I had to explain that any time you deliver the lick, you're not as apt to get hurt. When you're taking the hit, that's when you get hurt. You have to learn to be the punisher instead of the other way around."
Coffey remembered being a little cautious at first, but he listened to his coach's advice and realized he had put in the time to rehab properly and felt even stronger than before the injury.
"I had broken my collarbone twice, had to have surgery and was out six months,” he said. “But I got in the weight room every day after that, then our big guys and our blocking backs saved my tail a lot last year. I think the line this year will be even better. They're more experienced and mature than last year."
The same can be said for Coffey.
By the end of last season, Coffey led Cloudland to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the second round of the TSSAA playoffs. Included in that record was a 26-20 win over Copper Basin in the Highlanders' regular season finale, when he finished with 158 yards to help his team rally from a second-half deficit.
"He's got a lot of athletic ability, a naturally strong kid who finishes his runs about well as any running back could," Lunsford said. "When he came back after being injured, he wasn't really a physical, punishing type runner. But, now he's hard to bring down. He breaks about as many tackles as anyone you'll see."
Coffey isn't just the top returning player on offense. He's a huge contributor for the Highlanders’ defense, where he's an outside linebacker, and on special teams as a kick and punt returner.
"He's the best form tackler, the best tackler overall that we have," Lunsford said. "He's not a perfect defensive player, but he is a very good tackler and that's why he is so valuable at the outside linebacker position."
No game showed off his all-around abilities more than the opening round of the playoffs, a 50-13 win over Midway. Coffey had his usual strong game at running back with 26 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown — but he also scored on a 42-yard interception return on defense and added a 35-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Still, that wasn't Coffey's favorite game of the season.
A true Highlander, nothing outranked Cloudland's 22-20 win over arch-rival Hampton. Coffey was a workhorse that night with 31 carries for 178 yards. He also made a game-saving interception with a minute to go.
"That was the best feeling ever," Coffey said. "It's such a big rivalry and it's hard to describe how good it felt to win that one."