Rangers putting in work to get primed for season opener
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
STONEY CREEK – The 2021 graduating class took a big chunk out of the Unaka Rangers armour as head coach O’Brien Bennett saw several stellar players walk across the stage along with a couple of juniors who took early graduation including Daniel Shearl and Logan Taylor who Coach Bennett was counting on entering their senior season.
With Shearl departing, it took away what would have been the most dynamic receiving corps in Class A football in the state with Shearl and Devon Ramsey manning those slots and Landon Ramsey slinging the football from the hip to both receivers.
Now the Ramsey brothers – both pre-season All-State selections in Class A football, will be looking to do all they can to continue to build off a 2020 campaign that saw the Rangers finish second in the conference and host a playoff game for the first time in several years.
The boys from Stoney Creek are hard at work as they know the first two games will have a lot of bearing on their conference standings as the Rangers open with North Greene and follow that contest up with Cloudland.
“We have a real solid nucleus that’s here every day working their tails off,” Bennett said on Tuesday evening. “That’s the key – you have to come in every day and you have got to get better and it doesn’t matter how slow or out of shape that you are at the beginning, you are lapping everybody that is staying on the couch.
“That’s what we want to do, we want to get the kids in here and we want to get them to work.”
Bennett said the Rangers have had a really good off-season but right now would love to have better numbers as far as the overall aspect of the game and the summer has been tough in getting those kids out on the field.
“Kids have been getting back into a routine after a very strange year where the consistency couldn’t be there. And trying to snap back on the consistent routine has been tough,” Bennett added.
Last year we were off for two weeks as Carter County Schools missed the first two games of the season and then we were back on and then it was 25 percent, 50 percent, and then 100 percent and then we got sent home for COVID and then we came back from that and then we came back to 100 percent virtual and came back in – it was hard to get the routine.
“A lot of these kids need the routine and the structure because when it’s not there – snapping it back on, some guys are sleeping until 2 pm in the afternoon and then getting up and doing the virtual school and we are getting them here saying you have to be here at 7:30 am in the morning,” Bennett continued.
“It’s the first time they have seen the sunrise in a year so it’s a battle trying to snap back on expectations and that’s the thing that hurt us about COVID last year. We felt like we were making inroads in the culture and then you send everybody home and a lot of your culture makers graduated.”
Making the new season even more difficult in the early preparations is that for some of the younger kids, this has been an unusual off-season. With those graduating, there is definitely missed DNA guys from the culture that the Unaka program was trying to build.
Recreating that culture has been one of the challenges facing Bennett and his staff this season.
For the time being, the coaching staff along with Bennett are spending a lot of time teaching during practice sessions hoping that the lessons taught will quickly sink in with a new season sitting on the doorstep.