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Lee excited to begin new era

Staff • Aug 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

School Name: Lee High

Nickname: Generals

Coach: Bobby Sanders

2006 record: 2-8, 0-3

Offensive starters back: 9

Defensive starters back: 5

BEN HUR — Bobby Sanders anticipates that this year’s transition into the Group A, Clinch Mountain District will be a lot more fun than last year’s transition season as the Generals’ coach.

“Some of our staff wasn’t even hired until a week before practice started,” said Sanders, who himself wasn’t hired until the end of spring. “It took us a while as a staff to earn the players’ trust. Heck, it took us a while as a staff to earn each other’s trust.

“It took us three or four games for us to figure out what kind of team we were capable of being.”

The shortage of wins in 2006 by no means translates into a shortage of enthusiasm for football at Five Star Stadium. Lee High hasn’t had a winning football season since 1998. But there is a palpable atmosphere of optimism around Ben Hur these days.

“These kids want to be part of the group that turns things around,” Sanders said. “They’re hungry to win. They’re willing to do what it takes to be successful. They’re willing to sacrifice for each other.”

The Generals return five veteran offensive linemen from last year, including tackles T.J. Thomas and James Mumpower, guards Billy Collins and Frankie Cooper, and center T.J. Quinley. The 6-foot-3, 333-pound Collins — slimmed down from 350-plus last year — is the leader of an interior that could prove to be a lot more assertive at the line of scrimmage than last year.

“The five offensive linemen we’ve got are all quicker and stronger,” Sanders said. “If we can just figure out the right guys for them to block, we’ve got a chance to be pretty effective.”

Quarterback Tyler Mullins, who broke his arm on the first day of full pads last year, was an obvious offensive asset once he was cleared to play. Returning starter Jordan Haynes and Michael Rutledge are the two most likely running backs to join Mullins in the backfield. But Sanders has some depth.

“We have four or five running backs we feel comfortable with, including Jimmy Shoemaker and Jamie Lawson,” said Sanders, who believes this year’s group offers more offensive versatility.

“Last year we ran a lot of split back. We really like the look of Tyler running the option. He reads it well. But we also feel comfortable going four-wide and we also feel like we can play power football.”

As pitch-and-catch goes, Sanders returns flanker Gary Stafford — who led the squad with 35 catches for 469 yards — and split end Chris Thomas, who didn’t have many catches last year but is one of the fastest guys on the team. Scotty Woliver and Billy Orick could also provide some help on the routes.

“Offensively, we feel like we can do some things that will help us,” Sanders said. “We feel more athletic than we’ve been. And we’re significantly faster.”

The Generals had a lot of trouble stopping the run last year. This season, Sanders is modifying his approach.

“We tried to line up in an old-fashioned 50 and try to whip people up front,” Sanders said. “This year we’re going to stand some people up and use athleticism to make more plays.”

Thomas, who was a starting free safety last year, will move to one of the defensive ends, with Zac Tucker moving in at the other. Cory Culbertson and Shoemaker — returning starters who were lost early in the season to injuries — return at the tackles, with Collins making a big impression at noseguard.

Nick Stapleton and All-Highlands pick Dustin Dennison return at the linebackers, joined by Rutledge. Haynes and Stafford both return to the secondary, with Woliver looking to lend some additional speed to the defensive backfield.

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