Posted: Thursday, August 15th 2013 at 9:36am
Football 2013: Title run in the past, GHS focused on future
By Morgan Lee Editor
GAINESVILLE: NEED TO KNOW
MASCOT: Red Elephants
TEAM COLORS: Red and White
CURRENT REGION: 8-AAAAA
HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Bruce Miller, 12th season, 118-24
2012 RECORD/ ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 12-3, Class AAAAA champion (first-ever GHSA crown)
KEY LOSSES: WR/Kick and punt returner Keyontra Harrison, WR Caleb Hayman, WR Lahius Leverette, OL Chase England, S Fred Payne, OLB Mike Pittman, CB T.K. Mize, DL Damian Grayson, Sr. DL Connor Calvert
OFFENSIVE STYLE: Spread -- Gainesville's wide-open, four- and five-wide receiver sets attempt to string out defenses and get its playmakers in space, and quarterback Deshaun Watson's dual threat ability make the Red Elephants a nightmare for most opposing defenses.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. QB Deshaun Watson (4,011 yards passing, 70 percent completion rate, 1,430 yards rushing, 75 total TDs), Jr. WR Rodney Lackey (69 catches, 981 yards, 15 TDs), Jr. RB Michael Byrd (1,104 total yards, 12 total TDs), Sr. WR Jay Gaudlock, Sr. WR Chastin Newman, Sr. WR Josh Holderfield
DEFENSIVE STYLE: 3-4 -- the Red Elephants attack from multiple angles, blitzing from one spot, dropping in another.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. ILB Devan Stringer, Jr. ILB Jadarius Sosebee, Sr. LB Brenquese Dukes, Sr. LB Brenquez Dukes, Jr. Saf Lewis Cousins, Sr. Saf Chandler Newton, Sr. DE Colton Quinones, Jr. DL Jamel Dabney
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sr. PK Gage Turner, Sr. P Deshaun Watson
STRENGTH: Offensive skill players/linebackers -- With the type of weapons he has surrounding him, the record-setting Watson should continue to terrorize opposing defenses in 2013. Defensively Gainesville's linebackers are both strong tacklers and playmakers
QUESTION: Depth/changes on line of scrimmage -- Once again, the Red Elephants will turn to some new faces to protect Watson. Last year it worked well, but it must be proven again. There are also new faces in other key positions like safety and defensive line.
KEY GAMES: Most football fans around the state, let alone northeast Georgia, will have the Sept. 6 game against Buford on their calendar. The Region 8-AAAAA schedule should also prove tough, including games against always-explosive Clarke Central (Oct. 18), Loganville (Nov. 1) and Flowery Branch (Nov. 8). Both the Loganville and Flowery Branch knocked off Gainesville last season, and the rematch with the Falcons should be a huge one.
TRENDING: The only thing missing from Gainesville's resume was a GHSA championship and after a magical postseason run, the Red Elephants got it in 2012. And with loads of talent returning for 2013, everyone will be hoping for a repeat. But Gainesville knows that won't come easy, especially with some key changes to the roster. The Red Elephants will be looking for their sixth straight double digit win total in 2013.
Aug. 30 at West Forsyth
Sept. 6 vs. Buford
Sept. 13 vs. Winder-Barrow
Sept. 20 at Apalachee
Sept. 27 at Heritage, Conyers
Oct. 4 vs. Cedar Shoals
Oct. 11 vs. Salem
Oct. 18 at Clarke Central
Nov. 1 at Loganville
Nov. 8 vs. Flowery Branch
GAINESVILLE -- Bruce Miller has enjoyed the pats on the back, congratulations and adulation.
Miller also knows that's now finished -- and he's not alone.
The Gainesville football coach says his team has worked hard on putting last season's historic championship run out of its collective minds and is focusing squarely on 2013.
"The one thing you worry about is people getting satisfied and relaxing, trying to get off that high and get back to work. But our kids did a very good job of that," Miller said. "Only time will tell, but I think they did a very good job of readjusting. Thank goodness we've got several kids back that have been starting for us for several years and they know how to handle expectation."
That, of course, includes 2012 Class AAAAA player of the year Deshaun Watson, and the quarterback -- whom opposing fans and coaches must feel has been playing at Gainesville for decades by now -- is determined to cap his incredible career with more success.
And Watson -- who threw for 4,011 yards (while completing 70 percent of his passes), rushed for 1,430 yards and compiled a dizzying 75 total touchdowns last season -- will again be surrounded by plenty of talent at the skill positions.
Despite graduating three standout receivers, the Red Elephants may be even deeper at the position this season with returning standout Rodney Lackey (team-high 69 catches, 981 yards, 15 TDs in 2012) joined by Jay Gaudlock (35 catches, 314, 4 TDs), Chastin Newman (18 catches, 231 yards, 3 TDs), Orrin Ragland (7 catches, 51 yards, TD) and newcomers Josh Holderfield and Chris Williamson. Junior running back Michael Byrd (705 yards rushing, 8 TDs) is also dynamic threat in the backfield.
"I feel like our skill people are very, very good. They could be explosive," Miller said. "But they've got to make plays and that remains to be seen. Will they make the critical catch on a third and 10 situation in a big ballgame?"
The other question comes on the offensive line, where the Red Elephants must replace stalwart center Chase England -- the man who got Watson the ball on every snap of 2012.
Gainesville's defensive front also faces some questions in 2013, as the Red Elephants look to fill voids left by graduated standouts Connor Calvert and Damian Grayson, among others. Jamel Dabney and Colton Quinones will combine with Kash Jones, Terrall Hendrix and Jeremy Ingram to provide a push up front and clear space for a talented and deep linebacker corps.
Senior Devan Stringer (leading tackler in 2012 with 179 stops), Jadarius Sosebee, Brenquez Dukes, Brenquese Dukes and Jack Cumisky will form an athletic and hard-nosed unit that excels at gang-tackling in the ever-shifting and attacking Red Elephants defense.
Perhaps the biggest hole to fill for Gainesville comes in the secondary, where Fred Payne led the way in 2012. Senior Chandler Newton and junior Lewis Cousins will look to make up for Payne's graduation, while Brenton Merritt and Chris Byrd will feature at corner.
"I think we'll lack a little depth that we had at end of last year. But I think you always start out worrying about depth," Miller said. "We're trying to develop depth right now. It's a process."
Gainesville is also settled in the kicking game after the rise of Gage Turner in 2012. Now a senior, Turner has worked hard to hone his craft, and with games against West Forsyth and Buford to start the season, he could be a key factor early.
"Nothing's going to be easy; and now we've got even more of a bull's-eye on our backs," Miller said. "We're just trying to get ready and looking at the first game of the season."
The celebrations, which for Red Elephants' players ended with spring workouts, are now officially over.
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