Published 12:01 am Friday, June 20, 2014

By Wes Holtsclaw



Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

With 15 contributors returning to the gridiron after a playoff season, optimism is certainly high on Stoney Creek for the upcoming 2014 campaign.

The Rangers began preparations with light workouts during the spring, engaging returning players and newcomers with basic fundamental drills over the course of a two-week period, according to head coach Steve “Pink” McKinney.

“We don’t go out in full pads, we went out in shorts and head gear and we didn’t use shoulder pads this spring,” McKinney said Monday. “We went out and worked on some of our basic techniques and stuff like that. I don’t scrimmage because I don’t see no use in it. We want to teach the basic fundamentals of what we need to look forward to in the fall.”

Unaka will be seeking to replace some talented contributors in standout linebacker Austin Anderson, quarterback Eli Rasnick and runner Andy Guinn, but figure to return six seniors within a core group that have previously earned minutes underneath the Friday night lights.

“Everybody that comes out, we try to work with them,” McKinney said. “We want to make it fun for the kids and have them interested in playing the great game of football.”

After battling for one win in its first seven games, the Rangers turned a corner the last three weeks of the previous season with big wins over Tri-Cities Christian, Cosby and North Greene to pick up a first-round playoff berth at Midway.

That carried over into the weight room for some players, while others worked on the basketball hardwood or played baseball in the spring.

“We have kids that play so many sports, you kind of have to go through spring without them,” McKinney said. “To me, and a lot of coaches won’t agree, spring practice is basically a time where you try to teach your kids what you expect out of them in the fall and stuff like that.”

A pair of rising juniors stepped up with strong leadership during the spring.

“Jacob Day and Micah Hunt, they looked real good,” added McKinney.

Day will figure into the equation on the offensive and defensive lines, while Hunt could stand out in a variety of skill roles.

Junior Brandon Guinn will be counted on as a ball carrier, while seniors Travis Overdorf, Joe Oliver and junior Joe Pate figure to be some of the key cogs in the trenches.

Gabe Taylor, who skipped out during his sophomore season, returned in the spring and looked good according to McKinney, who noted senior Ryan Peele and sophomore Elijah Egolf as other names to look forward to.

Senior Bobby Davenport, who missed spring due to baseball, will also add two years of starting experience when he returns to the field this fall.

As far as summer plans, McKinney’s players are training in the weight room and building strength ahead of the dead period which will be followed by 7-on-7 workouts and the traditional start of practice.

“We’ve got a couple of 7-on-7s getting ready to go after the dead period,” McKinney added. “Right now we’re lifting three days a week and have different times the weight room is open. A lot of our kids are in basketball camp right now. I tell these kids to play it all. Basketball’s going to help your feet and conditioning. That’s what I try to tell them.”

Unaka opens play August 22 at Oliver Springs with road dates slated at Sullivan East, Cloudland and South Greene.

The Rangers host six opponents this fall, including Hampton, Avery County (NC), Hancock, Tri-Cities Christian, North Greene and Cosby.