EWING — Numbers are the name of the game for the Thomas Walker Pioneers.
On media day, the roster listed 22 players.
“The first thing you have to deal with is being creative because of the numbers you’re dealing with,” said first- year Pioneers coach Brian Coomer. “You have to adjust your practices and isolate on certain drills.
“We can’t afford to get someone hurt on a Tuesday in practice and lose him for Friday’s game,” he added. “If we lose one player, we end up losing three or four positions.”
Coomer, who got the head coaching job at Thomas Walker just a few days before practice began, is adjusting to his situation.
“I’m a guy who doesn’t deal real well with change,” he said, smiling. “But you know, sometimes it’s a good thing to get out of your comfort zone.”
A positive note for the Pioneers and their coaches is the return of some key players.
Justin Catron, a 6-foot-1, 150- pound senior quarterback, leads the offense. Last season he completed 39 of 87 passes for 514 yards and three touchdowns, also rushing for 156 yards on 46 attempts with a TD.
Senior Eli Davis (5-7, 140) returns at running back after gaining 150 yards and scoring two touchdowns last season.
Wide receiver Justin Greer (6-0, 160, Sr.) returns after suffering a broken collarbone last year, and Jake Eldridge (5-10, 180, Sr.) is back at running back following his recovery from a torn ACL in the 2012 campaign.
The line is anchored by sophomore Logan Hensley (5-11, 250), senior Joe Evans (5-8, 170) and junior Nick Hatfield (5-10, 210).
“We’ve got some good-looking athletes,” Coomer said. “We just don’t have a lot of them.”
What Coomer and his staff are stressing to the players are the basics.
“It’s still football,” Coomer said. “And football is all about blocking and tackling. If you do those two things well then good things will happen.”
A twist this year in the Cumberland District is the addition of Clintwood and J.I. Burton from the now-defunct Lonesome Pine District.
“Those two will be the teams to beat in our district, no doubt about it,” Coomer said. “The challenge for us is to raise the level of our competitiveness. We may struggle against programs like that, but against teams our size I think we’ll be competitive.”
It may be an uphill battle, but Coomer expects his Pioneers to fight every step of the way.
“We’ve thrown a lot at the guys and they’ve responded well,” he said. “I’ve been very encouraged by the effort they’ve given so far.
“For teams our size, the season is a war of attrition. It becomes a matter of staying away from injuries. If we can stay healthy, we’ll be all right.”