“I think defensively we’re ahead of our offense right now,” Travis Turner said.
The coach’s optimism around his defense starts with a linebacking corps that includes returning starter Mason Polier, a senior. Polier — an NCAA prospect who is drawing the attention of several schools, particularly Appalachian State, William & Mary and VMI — attended 15 prospect camps over the summer.
“He is one of the hardest-working kids that we’ve had in our program. He’s dedicated to football and dedicated to the weight room. He didn’t miss a day this summer, except for when he was going to a football camp,” Turner said. “He’s just had a great summer and has come out ready to play. He’s our leader right now.”
Also back at linebacker for the Bears are junior C.J. Jones, sophomore Zavier Lomax and senior Bryce Guerrant.
On the other side of the ball, Polier and Guerrant return to the offensive backfield, sharing carries with the speeding Lomax.
Up front, senior Trevor Wagner returns as a starter along with junior Carson Ray. They protect junior Brody Gibson, who steps into the quarterback position.
Turner, himself a former all-state quarterback, has been working with Gibson to prepare him physically and mentally to shoulder the position’s responsibilities.
“He’s learning every day,” Turner said of Gibson, who quarterbacked Union’s junior varsity team last season. “It’s a process. It ain’t going to happen overnight and he’s going to make mistakes. That comes with the territory.
“I told him I played the position and I know what it’s like to be the young guy. You just have to overcome things when you make a mistake. You can’t let one play defeat you.”
The Bears have plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball and their formidable early schedule means they need to do it quickly. They face Lee High, Richlands, Kentucky’s Letcher County Central and defending VHSL Class 2 champion Graham in the first four weeks.
“We play a pretty tough schedule. There’s no question about it,” Turner said. “From the first game to the last game, it’s going to be a challenge.
“We lost some good leaders from last year. Experience is a concern, especially at the first of the year.”
Turner plans to mix things up offensively but early on must lean on the ground game while Gibson adjusts to being a varsity signal- caller.
“Early in the year we’re probably going to have to rely on some of the guys who have experience at running back,” the coach said. “I think as the year goes on, we’re going to get better and better because our youth is going to have that experience and that will make a difference.”
Aug. 30 at Lee High
Sept. 6 Richlands
Sept. 13 at Letcher Central, Ky.
Sept. 20 at Graham
Sept. 27 Gate City
Oct. 4 Paintsville, Ky.
Oct. 11 Ridgeview
Oct. 18 at Wise Central
Nov. 1 at Abingdon
Nov. 8 John Battle