BIG STONE GAP — If you wander into the Huddle House in Big Stone Gap on a Saturday morning, you’re apt to hear some tall tales of the titanic football programs at Powell Valley and Appalachia.
With all those two programs accomplished, Union coach Travis Turner said it only stands to reason the stories will live on for quite some time.
“You’ll always have that, the old-timers talking about the old days,” Turner said. “Because in those two schools, there was such rich tradition of football.”
But Turner said no such talk can be heard from the players who currently populate the football locker room at Union.
Two years after uniting the proud programs of Appalachia and Powell Valley, the Bears have taken steps to establish a tradition all their own.
“You don’t really hear a whole lot about Appalachia and Powell Valley anymore,” Turner said. “Everybody is getting on board with Union.
“Winning games helps out a lot.”
Last season Union went 7-3 during the regular season and picked up a victory against Graham in the first round of the playoffs before dropping a 28-21 decision to Stuarts Draft in Round 2. With a senior-laden roster and plenty of starters returning on both sides of the ball, hopes are high heading into the new campaign.
“We’ve got 22 seniors that are showing some great leadership,” Turner said. “They’re feeding off last year — had a successful season and got the first playoff win in the short history of the school.
“That’s kind of carrying over to this year.”
The Bears return eight starters on offense and six on defense. With so many offensive players back, Turner said his team should be able to move the ball this season.
“We’re ahead offensively from where we were last year,” he said. “Our skill position kids have adapted to our new spread game. We’re going to throw the ball around a little bit.”
Tanner Hall, a junior, is leading the offense at quarterback. He’s joined in the backfield by senior fullback Brandon Hubbard and senior tailbacks Mekyah Davis and Jake McCray.
Zack Barker, a 6-foot-4, 235- pound senior, is an imposing presence at tight end. Cameron Johnson, also a senior, mans the other tight end spot.
The line consists of Nick Horton and Austin Falin at the tackle positions, Trey Peace and Ethan McFarland at the guard slots and Ethan Sampson at center.
Turner said the six returning seniors on defense should provide enough stability for the unit to carry on without missing a beat.
“If you’ve got six or seven kids coming back, that helps out experience-wise,” Turner said. “They can kind of show the new kids what we expect out of them.
“We have a great group of senior leaders and they’re doing a tremendous job.”
The returning starters along the defensive line are Horton, Barker and senior Robert Fonseca. Hubbard is back at linebacker and junior Austin Jessee returns to his slot in the defensive backfield.