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Bulldogs primed for Devil invasion… Hampton to rely on veteran players to show the way

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The Hampton Bulldogs are about as excited to get football underway as a pen of pigs is to get fresh slop and that opportunity comes on Friday night when Coach Michael Lunsford’s team host the Unicoi County Blue Devils who lost last week in their first contest of the season to South Greene.
Even though the Bulldogs were clicking right along before being shut down two weeks ago and now its an uphill battle to catch back up to where they were and advance beyond.
“I feel like that we have a pretty veteran line and veteran at the quarterback spot but those two weeks where we had to take that lay off, we were ahead but then had the two weeks off and now we are playing catch up,” Lunsford said on Sunday. “Especially in our skill spots and places like that we are trying to get a lot of new guys ready and its taken a lot more time and we are just a little bit behind the eight ball.”
Like other teams in the county that were just released to play last Thursday as long as the players came to school with their parents and signed a consent form, the Bulldogs have taken advantage of every opportunity to practice since then.
Lunsford feels like the work his team is putting in and the enthusiasm with which they are doing it will be sufficient to carry them in their contest on Friday night.
“By Friday night, I do feel like there’s not a whole lot you can do about Friday night – its got to be the preparation up to that point,” Lunsford stated. “We have to work our guts out this week in practice and we have got to do a good job of being able to go against some of our young guys and be able to get some good competition from them.
“We haven’t had any spring practice, we haven’t had any scrimmages, and we are two weeks behind in practice so it’s going to be a lot on those younger guys to give us something good to go against and give us a good look because that’s all we are going to have to go against.”
If there is a positive for Lunsford in some aspect it would be the fact that the Bulldog staff went to scout out the game the Blue Devils played against South Greene not realizing that Hampton had the chance of getting in their game with Unicoi Co.
“We went to watch them because we play Unicoi and South Greene and so we felt like it was a good game for us to go watch,” Lunsford added.  “Had we known then that we were for sure get to play, we would probably have paid a little more attention to them.
“Everything was so up in the air at the time and you are trying to scout both teams so it made it tough. We did at least get an opportunity to see them so that’s definitely a positive.”
In evaluating what the Bulldogs had to do in shutting down the Blue Devils, Lunsford said that everything really starts on the defensive side of the ball especially in defensive backfield.
“We have to play well in the defensive backfield. They have a real good quarterback over there and have several really good skill guys they can throw the football to,” he said.
“I felt like they were every bit as good as South Greene if not better. They did have some blunders and snaps over their heads and some things like that in first game jitters that we have got to control and not make the same little mistakes and blunders.
“We have got to play good in the secondary, got to play good in the pass rush on the quarterback, and we can’t make those silly mistakes that first games have when you don’t have anything under your belts like this.”
As a team, the excitement of just being on the practice field was evident as the team tries to grind off some of the rust from having been sidelined for those two weeks.
But they feel that just like a knife blade that once had a sharp hew to it and is left sitting for a while and oxidizes, that the sharpness is there it will just take putting some oil on the blade with some touch-up and polish they will be just fine.
“They have been tickled to death,” Lunsford said of his team. “I couldn’t be prouder of them. To have this many kids here on a Sunday at 2 o’clock is pretty impressive. I am not sure that we had many teams that would do it like this.”
Due to regulations implemented by the TSSAA, Lunsford said that the outlook for tickets will be dependent upon how many of the Bulldog players, cheerleaders, and band take advantage of the tickets they have first shot at.
“From my understanding, public tickets will go on sale Tuesday around lunchtime on GoFan,” Lunsford added. “The players will have their first chance to buy tickets on Monday so I think they will have four tickets for each family is what they are doing.”
Just like so many other coaching staffs around the nation, Lunsford feels like that this summer has been undaunting in the fact that even though he and his coaches are preparing the team, there still are no guarantees that a season will be finished.
“The whole summer it was so hard because you felt like you were getting a lot done and you were working hard and the kids were working hard and at the end of the day you go home and you are like does it matter,” he said.
“Does it really matter that you are looking good, does it matter that the kids are working hard and just that cloud over your head so now to get the go-ahead to go and do it is just a sense of relief and a sense of excitement for us and the boys.”
The Bulldogs and Blue Devils will butt heads with a 7:30 pm kickoff.