Lunsford returns as Highlanders’ head football coach

Published 4:15 pm Friday, February 5, 2016


Cloudland High School has decided to go in a new, but still yet familiar direction with its football program.

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Cloudland High Interim Principal Lisa Benfield announced Friday that former Hampton head coach Mike Lunsford has officially been hired as the Highlanders’ head football coach.

“We are looking forward to Mr. Lunsford coming back to Cloudland,” Benfield said. “He has a way of getting kids out to play ball. Kids want to do their best for him.”

“He does a great job of motivating the players to lift weights and get out there and give a hundred percent,” she added.

For Lunsford, who has led the Bulldogs since 2009, Friday’s announcement came with mixed emotions as he looks forward to what the future holds for Highlanders’ football and looks back at the years he has spent with the Bulldogs.

“It is a program that I left 12 years ago,” Lunsford said. “Its going to be a whole lot closer to home. There are a lot of good things about it. It is a place that I love. It is where I went to high school.”

“I first want to say, I really, really loved my years here,” Lunsford added about his time at Hampton. “It was some of the best years that I have ever had coaching. I appreciate the school and the administration. I appreciate the community. I hope that I will always be a part of this, because there is always going to be a special place in my heart here.”

During his last season with the Bulldogs, Lunsford led Hampton to a 13-1 season and a state semifinals appearance. Over his seven-year stretch with Hampton, the Bulldogs amassed a 65-15 record. Also during that time, the seasoned coach picked up his 200th win. Lunsford will be leaving Hampton on a high note, but he feels that the Bulldogs’ program will remain strong for years to come.

“I am not leaving because the talent is gone,” he said. “I believe in the kids that are coming. Next year’s team can be every bit as good as this year’s team, if they know how to work and put in the effort like L.J did and Coby did. I hope that the kids here realize that what determines their success is their work effort.”

From 1989-2003, Lunsford served as head coach at Cloudland High School. During that time, Lunsford only had one team not make it to the playoffs. He led the Highlanders to the second round of the playoffs seven times, the quarter finals three times and the semifinal two times. In 2001, Lunsford took the Highlanders to the 1-A State Championship. He closed out his first run with Cloudland with a 134-40 record and a .773 winning percentage, while recording five 10-0 seasons.

And now, he is ready to get back to work in Roan Mountain.

“There is a lot of work,” he said. “It is a program that I left 12 years ago. It is a good program, and I think that the first thing we have to do is get everybody back on the same page.”

“I wouldn’t be making the move if I did not want to go back,” he added. “My priority and number one goal is to build Cloudland into a state power.”

For the last four years, Hampton senior and standout QB Coby Jones played under Coach Lunsford and he is glad to have been apart of that era of Bulldogs’ football.

“He is a coach that stands out amongst the rest,” Jones said. “He doesn’t care about just football. He wants to make you a better person. He cares about treating you right.”

“He took me in with open arms when I came in as a freshman,” Jones added. “He pushed me and everybody else extremely hard. He taught us what it is like to be a Hampton football player.”

The coaching position at Cloudland became open after former head coach Brock Pittman was relieved of his coaching duties in early January. Cloudland athletic director Robbie Turbyfill said he feels Pittman did a great job. Turbyfill also said that with Lunsford’s history with the Cloudland program, he believes the new coach will make a great fit in Roan Mountain.

“Even though he has been at other places, I think that Coach Lunsford is a Cloudland guy,” Turbyfill said. “He graduated from Cloudland and he played football at Cloudland. I think he is coming home. I think Cloudland is where Mike Lunsford needs to be.”

“I think with the things he has done for our school and the success he has had at our school, he will be well received,” Turbyfill added.

As for the open coaching position at Hampton, principal Jeff Bradley said that the job will posted soon and a decision will be coming in the near future.

As Lunsford transitions into his position as the head coach over the Highlanders, there is still one thing that is for certain — a part of him will always be a Bulldog.

“I will always pull for Hampton,” Lunsford said with tears in his eyes.