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HS football: Expectations high for Gainesville in 2012

POSTED: August 18, 2012 11:00 p.m.

It’s shaping up to be an exciting season at Gainesville. The Red Elephants (12-2 in 2011) have one of the state’s best high school quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson, along with a handful of receivers with speed, a trio of running backs who can help mix things up on offense and a deep group of defensive backs.

Coming off a trip to the Class AAA state semifinals in 2011 and making the move up two classifications, the Red Elephants return 13 starters after winning their fourth consecutive region championship in 2011.

"I’m very excited about the upcoming season," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "It’s a great time to be at Gainesville High with a new field house at the stadium, the move up to Class AAAAA and a talented group of players."

If there is one area of concern for Miller, it’s an unproven offensive line with only one returning starter. He feels that having a couple of young linemen behind his projected starters will help with the still-evolving offensive line.

Offense

Watson, The Times 2011 Player of the Year, put up great numbers as a sophomore last year with 3,251 passing and 1,073 rushing yards. Not only does he possess all the physical tools, but he thrives under the pressure of big games, according to Miller.

His shining moment last season was when he orchestrated the Red Elephants’ state quarterfinal upset of No. 1 Sandy Creek, 35-21, at City Park Stadium. Miller hopes that trend continues with region games against Clarke Central and Flowery Branch late in the regular season.

Watson was the player behind Gainesville’s impressive string of scoring at least 40 points in 10 consecutive wins, following a 49-0 loss to Buford in the season opener. Watson accounted for seven touchdowns in a single game twice in 2011.

"I remember coaching against (Carolina Panthers quarterback) Cam Newton five years ago when he was the top quarterback around," Miller said. "Deshaun has that same ability to become the next big thing."

There will be little turnover for Gainesville at wide receiver: Most of its biggest playmakers are back in the fold this season. Tray Harrison, Lahius
Leverette and Caleb Hayman were all major contributors catching the ball last season, and are the leading targets again this season. Also, Gainesville has former West Hall quarterback Chandler Newton, a junior, penciled in to play at wide receiver.

At running back, Gainesville has a little more depth than in recent seasons. Last season, Jay Gaudlock broke his ankle early in the regular season, Rayshon Thomas missed the majority of the season due to suspension and freshman Michael Byrd was the go-to guy late in the season.

Now, all three are back and healthy. Miller says that it’s a toss up between Gaudlock and Byrd for the starting job, but all three will likely play. The only problem is that all three are diminutive players and fit the roll of a "scat back," according to Miller.

"If our offensive line comes around, they’ll be the type of running backs that can break a long one on any play," Miller said.

Chase England, a senior center, is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. The other four projected to start up front are Gilbert Ibarra and Danny Flores at tackle, and Jeremy Ingram and Edgar Arroyo at guard. Miller says that he expects sophomores Jamel Dabney and Kash Jones to also push the starters hard for playing time up front.

Defense

Gainesville’s defense has two of Miller’s favorite athletes at the same secondary position. Payne, a senior, and Lewis Cousins, a sophomore, make up the strength of the Red Elephants defense at safety. At cornerback, Brandon Hernandez and T.K. Mize are looking at the starting jobs.

Devan Stringer was Gainesville’s leader tackler last season (141) and is back at inside linebacker along with new starter Jadarius Sosebee. The Red Elephants’ outside linebackers are Brenquez Dukes and Alex Muckle. Returning linebacker Michael Pittman will still be sidelined to start the season with a cracked collar bone.

Damian Grayson returns as defensive tackle for the Red Elephants, and will start between ends Colton Quinones and Conner Calvert. Justin Cantrell, one of Gainesville’s leading wide receivers in 2011, has moved to defensive end.

Special teams

Harrison will handle Gainesville’s kick and punt return duties. Wesley Cooper and Gage Turner are the top place-kicking candidates to replace Aidan Reising. Watson will again handle the punting duties.

Outlook

Gainesville will jump into Class AAAAA as one of the top programs to beat right off the bat. With Watson at quarterback and the collection of receivers returning, scoring points should not be a problem. The defense also looks like it will be capable of holding up its end of the deal with six returning starters.

The Red Elephants will be tested right off the bat with a Thursday night game against Class AAAAAA’s West Forsyth at City Park Stadium, followed the next week with a trip to Buford. Gainesville’s toughest region games will come toward the end of the schedule with a visit from Clarke Central on Oct. 19, followed by a trip to Flowery Branch the final night of the regular season.

 


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