Unaka entering 2024 season with tougher mentality

Published 1:49 pm Wednesday, July 3, 2024

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Unaka head coach O’Brien Bennett might have found his motto tune for the 2024 season after seeing a 2023 season challenged by impactful injuries and throwing underclassmen into the fire of Friday night lights.
That song is by Kelly Clarkson and is titled “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” and that is the viewpoint that Bennett sees his 2024 team in heading into summer preparations.
“We had a really good spring in terms of our weightlifting especially since we had a class at school for weightlifting which meant there weren’t any conflicts in terms of work,” Bennett said. “We are not breaking any records, but we are stronger than we have ever been.”
Two players that Bennett will be relying on to carry the team offensively will be senior Brynin Repass and junior Connor McKinney who gives the Rangers great depth at the quarterback position.
Repass went down with an injury early last season and McKinney stepped into the role and now the question will be which one will run the signal caller position and which one will be flexible to a new position such as wide receiver and ultimately it could be an even mix of both.
“Our offense runs through them and now we are trying to figure out the pieces where they will work best,” said Bennett. “Connor was dropped into the offense last year with no experience on offense but has been working hard this season. Brynin has studied the game from both sides of the football.”
If there are questions for the Rangers, it will be at the running back and offensive line positions after graduating three impactful guys up front.
“You can’t replace an All-State player and captain of our team in Marcus Shomaker,” said Bennett. “Our guys are working hard but are inexperienced and are learning the game up front. We didn’t get everything answered during spring workouts there.”
Bennett will lean on returning player Jake Taylor who played every snap during the 2023 season. Referred to as “Captain America” by Bennett, Taylor brings tremendous leadership to the team.
“Jake is one of those players on the field that acts as a coach for us. He is top in academics in school and that shows on the field as he understands techniques and what we are trying to do.”
Reflecting back on the 2023 season, Bennett said his guys had to go through the school of hard knocks.
“Injuries hit us hard last year, but that will help us this year,” said Bennett. “We have guys coming back that are ready to take the next step after playing during those injuries.”
Some names that Bennett threw out to keep an eye include Chris Good, Nathan Bailey, Ashton Fuller, Drayden Freeman, David Tinsley, Dylan Davison, Jacob Smith, Ayden Turner, Cristobal Lopez, and Nathan Wilson.

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