Posted: Monday, August 13th 2012 at 9:35am
Football 2012: Young North Gwinnett preparing for big test
By Jeff Hart Staff
SUWANEE -- After one of the best seven-year runs by any program in north Georgia, North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire and his Bulldogs are ready for perhaps the toughest challenge of Sphire’s tenure.
North Gwinnett lost all but one offensive skill player, its entire defensive line and linebackers, and maybe more importantly, 10 coaches from last year’s staff. At one point during fall practice, Sphire said he was a one-man offensive island.
“I looked around and I was the only coach on the field with experience with our system,” he said. “I realized then that I was going to have to coach the coaches as much as the kids. It’s been interesting already. I’ve had to back off putting everything in and concentrate on doing a few things well. You could say this is a major transition year for us. But, we always expect to be good and competitive and I’m sure we will be once the region starts.”
The offense, where the Bulldogs will again employ the spread attack, will have talent returning in senior running backs Jonathan Lewis and Nick Andryusky and senior receiver Russell King. Move-in senior receiver Cam Lewis will give them another option as well. But senior quarterback Michael Haynes and the rest of the offense will have to learn on the job. The offensive line could be a solid group, anchored by seniors Alex Stoehr and Andy Kwon, by the end of the year.
On defense, the Bulldogs will have experience in the secondary but Sphire said inexperience is everywhere else. Seniors Donnie Miles and C.J. James, and junior Bobby Young will anchor a solid, fast secondary. Senior Jalen Brooks anchors the linebackers and junior Dante Sawyer will anchor the line.
The Bulldogs will open the season in the Georgia Dome against Colquitt County, a Class AAAAA Final Four team from last year, in the Corky Kell Classic. They will then have two weeks off before taking on A.C. Flora out of South Carolina before jumping into their Region 7-AAAAAA schedule against rival Norcross. Their season fortunes, however, could come down to the final three weeks of the season when they finish with two of their last three games on the road at Collins Hill and Peachtree Ridge in what is sure to have playoff implications for all three teams.
“We are a young, inexperienced team for the most part,” he said. “We have talent but most of them have not played much at the varsity level. The goal for us will be to play a lot of kids early to see what we have, what they can do, and develop them and get ready for (Region 7-AAAAAA opener) Norcross. That’s when the real season begins.
“We also have a tough finish. There is no doubt this will be the most challenging season since I’ve been here. But we’re doing everything we can to meet the challenge and get ready. I’m interested to see how much we improve and how well we do. I’m looking forward to it.”
NORTH GWINNETT: NEED TO KNOW
TEAM COLORS: Red and Black
CURRENT REGION: 7-AAAAAA
HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Bob Sphire, 7th season, 67-11
2011 RECORD/ ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-2, won Region 7-AAAAA, reached second round of Class AAAAA playoffs
KEY LOSSES: Entire DL and LB corps all graduated. All offensive skill players except for one WR. Lost 10 coaches from last season as other programs raided the Bulldogs.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. OL Alex Stoehr, Sr. RB Jonathan Lewis, Sr. RB Nick Andryusky, Sr. QB Michael Haynes, SR. WR Russell King, Sr. C Andy Kwon, Sr. WR Cam Lewis
DEFENSIVE STYLE: Return 4 starters. 3-5 -- the Bulldogs will shift around and show multiple fronts to try and confuse opposing offenses.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. CB Donnie Miles, SR. LB Jalen Brooks, Sr. Rover C.J. James, Jr. S Bobby Young, Jr. DL Dante Sawyer
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jr. Michael D’Angola (PK) is the front-runner and Jr. Luis Carasco is the front-runner for punting duties.
STRENGTH: If the Bulldogs stay healthy the OL could be very good. The defensive secondary will have a lot of experience coming back.
QUESTION: A young, inexperienced team that faces a tough schedule, particularly early. How they handle adversity will be a key.
KEY GAMES: They open the season at the Georgia Dome against Colquitt County, a Class AAAAA Final Four team from last year, in the Corky Kell Classic and then open 7-AAAAAA play against perennial power Norcross at home. They finish with two of their last three games on the road at Collins Hill and Peachtree Ridge in what is sure to have playoff implications for all three teams.
TRENDING: The Bulldogs are in the midst of their most successful run in program history and have made the playoff every season under Coach Sphire. They will be challenged this year in a tough region. The Region 7-AAAAAA opener against Norcross could set the tone whether they can keep their playoff streak alive.
Aug. 25 vs. Colquitt County (Georgia Dome) (Saturday)
Sept. 1 vs. A.C. Flora, S.C. (Saturday)
Sept. 14 vs. Norcross
Sept. 21 at Meadowcreek
Oct. 5 vs. Duluth
Oct. 12 at Mill Creek
Oct. 19 vs. Habersham Central
Oct. 26 at Collins Hill
Nov. 2 vs. Mountain View
Nov. 9 at Peachtree Ridge
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