Posted: Thursday, August 30th 2012 at 4:17pm
Red Elephants hit the ground running tonight (Video)
By Morgan Lee Editor
Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, far left, surveys a group of Red Elephants receivers during a preseason camp.
GAINESVILLE -- Gainesville football knows the jump to a Region 8-AAAAA schedule will be tough.
It probably won't be any tougher than what the Red Elephants will face over the next two weeks, however.
When Gainesville coach Bruce Miller discovered his program was to ascend from Class AAA to AAAAA, he set out to prepare his team in the best way he knew how, scheduling non-region foes West Forsyth and Buford to begin the campaign.
“One of the things I wanted to do in the first game was play a team in our own classification or higher, and then I wanted to play a real good football team, and you can’t play a better team than Buford,” said Miller, about to begin his 11th season with Gainesville after leading the Red Elephants to the Class AAA semifinals in 2011. “I tell you, we didn’t have any trouble getting our kids ready for the summer.”
From the moment the offseason began, the Red Elephants knew they had to focus with games looming against a 2011 Class AAAAA quarterfinalist and the Class AA runner-up. The first of those contests comes Thursday night at City Park, as Gainesville plays host to West Forsyth in a game that will be broadcast live on 1240 AM ESPN Radio and WDUN-TV channel 2.2.
Access North Georgia.com sports editor Morgan Lee caught up with Miller and Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson and safety Fred Payne to talk about the upcoming season. To watch the preview, simply click “play” below.
“When we heard about the game being televised, we got even more excited,” Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “We’re very hyped this week at school, just ready to play.”
With it being the season opener, the Red Elephants would likely be pumped no matter the opponent, but the caliber of the Wolverines -- a former region foe for Gainesville (in 2008-09) -- has the Red Elephants’ full attention.
“They’re very well coached; their quarteback is outstanding; they’ve got a good run game and are just a sound football team,” Miller said of West Forsyth. “It’s going to be a real challenge, but that’s what we designed it for.”
The Wolverines -- which feature 15 returning starters combined on offense and defense -- are led by senior signal caller A.J. Erdely (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), who passed for over 1,800 yards, ran for another 415 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in 2011. He is joined by running back Jake Wieczorek, who rolled up 1,600 all-purpose yards and scored 17 touchdowns last season. Both will be aided by a sizable offensive line that includes four returning starters -- none weighing less than 255 pounds.
The Red Elephants defense knows it has a task on its hands against the experienced Erdely.
“He’s a great quarterback, a tough kid; you can see that on film,” Gainesville safety Fred Payne said. “Their offense is something we’ve seen the past year -- a whole bunch of wing-T, I, pistol formations. We just have to work on the little things and being better as a team.”
Linebackers Conner Vandenbos (100-plus tackles in 2011) and Mohamed Camara (first team All-Region in 2011) pace a Wolverines defense that will look to contain the Red Elephants’ explosive spread attack -- a unit that averaged almost 41 points per game in 2011 and is led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson (3,251 yards passing, 41 TDs;1,073 yards rushing, 16 TDs).
Watson, who wowed fans throughout his sophomore campaign, has worked on the finer points of his game in the offseason.
“I’ve just been working on the little things, like footwork and accuracy,” said Watson, who is committed to Clemson. “I’m not worried about the stats from last season; I’m trying to become more of a vocal leader and get the team prepared better.”
After falling short in last season’s Class AAA semifinals, Gainesville’s players are hoping to pick up where they left off -- regardless of the classification.
“(The semifinal loss) fired us up in the offseason, we were proud but we were also disappointed,” Payne said. “We took that and used it as a hunger to keep us going.”
Miller has witnessed that desire firsthand for months and believes his team is ready to test itself against its imposing schedule.
“I think we’re very excited. It seems like we’ve been practicing for forever and the kids are just ready to get going,” Miller said. “We’re excited about the change in classifications and how we handle that challenge.”
Viewers can see the game on channel 2.2, WSB-TV’s second digital channel or watch the rebroadcast at 1:06 a.m. Saturday on Channel 2.
-- NOTE: Gainesville will also unveil their brand new Dr. P.K. Dixon Field House on Thursday.
To watch the entire interviews with Miller, Watson and Payne, simply click here
WEST FORSYTH at GAINESVILLE
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
-- WHERE: City Park, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 1240 AM ESPN Radio
-- WEST FORSYTH (0-0, Region 6-AAAAAA) -- went 11-2 in 2011, reaching the Class AAAAA quarterfinals.
-- GAINESVILLE (0-0, Region 8-AAAAA) -- went 12-2 in 2011, reaching the Class AAA semifinals. The Red Elephants are ranked ninth in Class AAAAA.
-- HISTORY: Gainesville won the last meeting 34-0 in 2009. The Red Elephants lead the series 2-0.
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