However, for a football team like Cloudland that likes to run the ball play after play, it is vital to have experienced players up front.
“There’s no doubt that the line is the strength of our team,” first-year Cloudland head coach Glenn White said. “When you’ve got a 4,000-yard rusher over the last two years, somebody has to be blocking.”
The Highlanders were fortunate over the last two seasons, having Jordan Coffey pile up those big yards. With Coffey now in Emory & Henry College’s program, this year will be more of a running back by committee situation in Roan Mountain.
Cloudland has gone an impressive 18-6 over the last two seasons, but has bowed out to Coalfield every postseason since 2014.
Last season was the closest the ’Landers have come to topping the Yellow Jackets during that time frame, losing in the final 10 seconds of the game, 29-24. It’s almost like Coalfield is Cloudland’s kryptonite.
It is a loss that still stings the class of 12 seniors that came so close to the quarterfinals, but those players know they have the potential this year to go far.
“We’ve been here together forever,” said Garrison Julian, a senior right guard. “I’ve played with these guys since we were little grasscutters. It’s really special to me because we’ve grown up together. We know each other and we click. That’s a big part of playing on the line together all these years. ... That was a really tough game (against Coalfield) and we were up in the last minute. That will always be a soft spot in my heart.”
What makes the group of hogs up front even more special is that four of the five starting offensive lineman from last year are back. That isn’t exactly common for a Class 1A school and it provides an advantage since White has decided to keep the same smashmouth style of football in place that his predecessor Mike Lunsford installed years ago.
However, being a small school means that a good majority of players play both ways and don't come off the field that often. White said it’s an adjustment at the first of the season, but by mid-September the linemen are in good condition.
“I’m going to have to give Coach Lunsford the credit on that one. They know that they're not coming off and they have to suck it up and go,” White said. “We’re doing more conditioning this year to help get ready for that. ... One of the positive things about this bunch is the aggressiveness. They like to hit each other and our practices aren’t productive if the intensity isn't there.”
Said Julian: “I love the game of football and I never want to come off the field. That’s how I feel about it. I don’t complain because I just love the sport.”
Julian, right tackle Jed Childress and left tackle David Miller were All-Mountain East Conference selections a year ago, with Miller drawing the nod as co-offensive lineman of the year. They and fellow returning starter Eli Preswood (left guard), who made the all-conference honorable mention list, are joined by center Logan Johnson in forming the projected starting five.
The ’Landers have a tough out-of-conference schedule in 2019, facing Hampton (twice), Happy Valley, South Greene, Johnson County, Avery County (N.C.) and Sullivan North.
They’ve owned Region 1-A over the past decade, going 33-13 since the start of the 2009 season. On paper, it looks to be no different this fall. But with lower numbers than usual this season, Cloudland has to stay healthy in order to advance in the postseason.
Cloudland begins the season on the road at Happy Valley on Aug. 23. The following week is a home game against the Rebels of South Greene.
“Everything at Cloudland is tough — rough and tough,” White said in conclusion. “Look at our stadium, it’s rough and tough. But isn't that the way Friday nights are supposed to be?”