Posted: Tuesday, July 3rd 2012 at 2:50pm
Gainesville finds emotional spark to help key summer success
By Morgan Lee Editor
Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson looks downfield during a 7-on-7 tournament earlier this summer.
GAINESVILLE -- It may be “dead week” for high school athletes throughout the state, but there’s nothing dead about the memories Deshaun Watson harbors of last year’s state playoff exit.
“Everything happens for a reason, and I think that game ended up like it did so that it will make us stronger as a team,” Watson recently said of Gainesville’s 63-28 Class AAA semifinal loss to eventual state champion Burke County.
Watson looked like anything but a sophomore for much of last campaign, quarterbacking the Red Elephants into the state semifinals, where his explosive abilities helped Gainesville to a 7-0 lead out of the gate -- the 6-foot-3 speedster ripping off an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage at City Park. Burke responded in emphatic fashion, however, scoring three straight touchdowns en route to the championship game berth the Red Elephants felt was well within their grasp.
It was a painful experience but one that Watson and his teammates have determined to use as a springboard for even bigger things in 2012.
“That game made me realize that you have to play every game like it’s your last,” Watson said. “We’ve been working hard with that in mind. We want to go even deeper in the playoffs this year.”
Senior safety and defensive captain Fred Payne says Gainesville is putting the disappointment of the Burke loss to good use.
“That has motivated us a lot,” Payne said during last week’s FCA 7-on-7 camp in Oakwood. “We came up very short in that game; we all felt like we left a lot out there. That has driven us so far this summer. We’re better than what we showed in that game, and we have high goals for ourselves. And we’re doing our best right now to make sure we get where we want to be.”
This time of year that means powering through weight room sessions and performing in 7-on-7 competitions -- something the Red Elephants say has been anything but a grind this summer, no matter how hot it gets.
“We’re coming out every time to get better -- in the weight room and on the field,” said Watson, who passed for 3,251 yards (with a 60.7 percent completion rate), including 41 TDs and 6 interceptions, and rushed for 1,073 yards and 16 scores in 2011. “We’ve looked good so far this summer. We’ve had a lot of people rotating in and out and participating, and we’ve been building chemistry.”
Certainly Gainesville’s wide-open, spread offense is in its element amongst the pass-only 7-on-7 competitions -- “this is like being in the backyard and playing for us,” Watson said of 7-on-7 competition -- and the Red Elephants are determined to fine-tune their attack over the summer before unleashing it on a new region and classification in 2012.
“It’s going to be a new year, a new region and we’re looking to play with a new enthusiasm,” Payne said about the prospect of moving up to Region 8-AAAAA -- a league the Red Elephants will share with former rivals Flowery Branch, along with Apalachee, Cedar Shoals, Clarke Central, Heritage (Conyers), Loganville, Salem and Winder-Barrow.
“We’re going to be facing a whole bunch of good athletes,” Watson said about 8-AAAAA. “It’s going to be fun.”
“Cam Newton selected me and Fred himself to go and represent team Georgia (with other standouts from the state),” Watson said after Gainesville competed at the tournament.
The trip is just part of a packed summer for Watson and his teammates, who will come out of the GHSA’s mandatory “dead week” with team camp at West Georgia looming, as well as continued workouts and competition. A few Red Elephants also have something unique on the horizon: a sort of summer internship with the Atlanta Falcons.
“Six of us from Gainesville were picked to go to Falcons camp,” Watson said. “We’re going to get to interact with the Falcons, and I’ll get a chance to talk to (Falcons quarterback) Matt Ryan and see what they’re doing up close.”
The experience will continue into the fall, as the high school players will also get to be on the sidelines for certain Falcons games.
By then the Red Elephants will have much more on their plates than workouts and 7-on-7 -- and Watson can’t wait.
“The whole team is really coming up big right now,” Watson said. “Everybody’s just working and trying to get better.”
And if they ever begin to flag underneath the wilting summer sun, they only need cast their memories back to last season’s finish.
“We don’t want to see anything like that again,” Payne said.
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