Posted: Saturday, May 31st 2014 at 5:25pm
Spring football: Trojans forego spring practice for extra scrimmage
By Jeff Hart Staff
GAINESVILLE -- With all the changes among area high school football teams for the coming season, perhaps none present as many challenges as North Hall.
The Trojans lost 21 of 22 starters from last year’s Class AAA playoff team. Among them, quarterback Andrew Smith and the winningest coach in program history in Bob Christmas, who guided them to 106 of their 223 victories in 13 seasons.
Long-time assistant David Bishop, who had followed Christmas from Virginia to Bainbridge to Murrayville starting in 1996, will take the reins in his first head coaching stint.
As offensive coordinator Bishop helped Christmas turn the Trojans from doormats into powerhouse, winning region championships in 2004, ’06, ’07 and ’12. North Hall also reached the state semifinals in 2007 and 2012 and the quarterfinal round in '04 and '06. The Trojans had won just 124 games in their 40-plus-year history prior to Christmas and his staff's arrival.
North Hall also will have to contend with a move to Class AAAA and into what many are predicting will be one of the toughest regions, regardless of classification, in the state.
"I think nine of the 10 teams on our schedule were playoff teams from a year ago," said Bishop, whose team will face a league that includes Class AAA champ Buford, rival Chestatee and state playoff teams such as Monroe Area, North Oconee, Stephens County and White County. "But I have a competitive nature, and I think our program does too, and we're going to be ready for the challenge."
Bishop, who must also replace longtime defensive coordinator Ronnie Eaves, says he hopes to keep most of the current North Hall staff intact. Stuart Cunningham, who was the linebackers coach last season and a former head coach at Habersham Central, will oversee the defense.
Another major change that Bishop and the Trojans will have to deal with is they opted to not hold spring practice and instead take an extra scrimmage game in the fall.
“It was something we thought about doing last year but we had to wait until it officially went into effect this year,” Bishop said. “We have so many players playing spring sports at North Hall it has also been a challenge for us for spring practice over the years. We’re going to find out how this works in the fall. But we feel good about the decision.”
Personnel-wise, there won’t be any tougher job than replacing the graduated Andrew Smith, who was among consideration for Region 7-AAA Player of the Year honors.
“Both of our projected quarterbacks -- Malik Gill (track) and Drew Atha (baseball) -- were not going to be here, so we decided it would be better to take the extra game,” Bishop said. “Drew is a little taller and has a little better arm but Malik is a crafty runner and throws it pretty well. I expect them to have a good battle.”
The Trojans backfield is sure to have a different look. There won’t be any speed merchants but it may be the most physical backfield the Trojans have fielded in Bishop’s time at North Hall.
Seniors Austin Perry (6-4, 220) and Bobby Mendenhall (5-10, 205), and junior Darrien Ingram (5-9, 205) give the Trojans plenty of muscle.
“We have three guys that can flat run over people,” Bishop said. “We’ll adjust our offense to what we have. Right now, more physical than speed.”
“My honest opinion is that the GHSA will eventually just phase out spring practice,” Bishop said. “The numbers are down since kids play multiple sports and they cut the number of days from 20 to 10 a few years back. But that’s just my opinion. I don’t know anything other than what I think.”
Bishop said the Trojans will have plenty of time in the off-season to jell as a team and get to know each other.
“We’re going to an FCA camp at West Georgia and we have two scrimmage games. Then, we have two weeks off from the final scrimmage to get ready for the opener (Sept. 5 vs. Jefferson),” Bishop said.
Morgan Lee contributed to this story.
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