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Gainesville seniors hope to leave their mark

POSTED: November 29, 2013 11:21 p.m.

The Gainesville Red Elephants are starting to become very comfortable at playing football when the weather turns cold.

The Red Elephants (12-1) withstood a test from Mundy’s Mill on Friday night to clinch a third straight appearance in the state semifinals.

Now just two wins away from securing back-to-back state championships, Gainesville is preparing for some of the toughest competition it will have faced all season.

“We’ve kind of been lulled to sleep all year,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “We’ve had a chance to beat some teams by some big scores, and that is not going to happen in the state playoffs. You are going to have to fight and claw and scratch, do whatever it takes to win.”

It’s the first time a Gainesville team will make three straight trips to the semifinals since 1981-83, when the Red Elephants lost to Bainbridge 7-6 in the ’82 state championship game.

Gainesville will face Tucker (13-0) next Friday night in the Class AAAAA state semifinals, a matchup pitting the third-ranked Red Elephants against the top-ranked Tigers.

The location of the game will be determined by a coin flip between the two coaches at 9 a.m. today, according to Miller.

The two schools have never met on the football field, but Miller knows plenty about the Tigers from previous coaching ventures at other schools.

“I’ve been playing Tucker all my coaching career,” Miller said. “They’re fast and athletic, well-coached. They will be a well-disciplined team and it will be one of those games where it will be a nail-biter.”

A major reason for Gainesville’s consecutive trips to the semifinals comes from the leadership of its senior class.

This season, the Red Elephants have 16 seniors on the roster, and that leadership has played a vital role when the team has been facing adversity, like on Friday night when they turned the ball over four times.

“Just when you think it is looking dismal, the senior leadership steps up and gets us going,” Miller said.

That focus and leadership from the seniors dates back to the eighth grade when linebacker Devan Stringer and a few members of the class sat around talking about what they wanted their legacy to be when they left Gainesville High.

After being ousted in the second round as freshman, their legacy has been a team that consistently makes a run deep into the playoffs and contends for championships.

“It is huge for us,” Stringer said. “Like I was saying, we want to leave a great legacy here. We are striving to do that, but we have to take it one game at a time. We can’t look ahead to the Dome game (state final).”

Another major reason for the Red Elephants’ continued success is Miller himself. Since he took over as head coach in 2002, Miller has guided Gainesville to five appearances in the semifinals (2002, 2009, 2011-13), and two in the state championship game (2009, 2012).

“It just shows how great of a coach he really is,” Stringer said. “He doesn’t stress us too much with all the other stuff going around the community and everything. He handles it and lets us just play football and get our school work done.”

The Red Elephants won their first-ever state championship as a member of the Georgia High Association last season, routing Ware County in the title game.

It was that very Ware County team that was blown out by Tucker, 29-0, on Friday night.

Despite wanting to become the first team to repeat as Class AAAAA champion since Camden County accomplished the feat in 2008-09, the Red Elephants know their focus needs to be on the athletic Tigers, and not playing in the Georgia Dome.

“We are taking it one game at a time, because if you lose, you’re out,” senior wide receiver Jay Gaudlock said. “And us seniors, we don’t have another game to play (if we lose).”


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