Gainesville High School’s football team will play for a state championship Friday for the first time in 10 years, and everybody in the community seems to be fired up.
Gainesville High has played for a state championship nine times since 1948, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the team finally won. On Friday, they’ll look to repeat that success and bring home a second state title.
Gainesville is ranked No. 4 in the state and faces off against the top-ranked team in Hughes High School. The Red Elephants are certainly an underdog against the Panthers, but with first-year Coach Josh Niblett at the helm, many in the community are predicting a victory for Gainesville.
Niblett is widely credited with revitalizing the team and transforming the program. Before coming to Gainesville last December, he coached in Alabama and won six state championships there. Gainesville will walk onto the field Friday night with a perfect 14-0 record for the season, as will the opposing team.
The game is at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium. It starts at 7 p.m. and will air live on GPB TV. Tickets can be purchased on GoFan.co, and all parking is $25 through Ticketmaster.
Here is what people are saying about the playoff game.
Jamie Green, principal at Gainesville Hi gh School
What he said: “We got students making signs and noisemakers and signing up for spirit buses, and we've got some staff t-shirts going on, and so just a lot of excited anticipation. For the football team and the student athletes, it’s been focus. For them, it’s been business as usual.”
“I'm really excited for them. I'm really proud of what they've done. And (Coach Niblett) said all along, the mantra has been, ‘Let’s go 1-0,’ and so that's what we want to do this week.”
Prediction: Gainesville win
Jeremy Williams, superintendent of Gainesville City Schools
What he said: “As a superintendent, you always hear people talk about, ‘Your high school football team is going to determine how good your school year goes.’ And when you're still playing the week before you get out for the winter break — it's been a great first semester.”
“I do not believe there's a coaching staff anywhere around that’s going to out-prepare, out-plan out-scheme Coach Niblett and his team.”
“Gainesville is one of those places where, having 130 years of a school system, you have people who may go back one generation, two generations — there's some tie back to Gainesville High School. So I have parents that come up to me or alumni whose kids went to Lakeview or North Hall or somewhere else, and they're so excited about Gainesville because there is a tie back to Gainesville. And at this point, there's only two teams left, and so why not us?”
Prediction: “Obviously a win. Whether it's by 1 or 21, I don't care.”
Sam Couvillon, mayor of Gainesville
What he said: “I've told people when your high school football team is successful, and playing deep into the state playoffs, your food tastes better at Thanksgiving. Your kids are nicer to you. It's more fun to come to work. Everything is just better when you have a successful football team.
T he community rallies around sports and nothing more than a high school football team.”
“I go back to Coach Niblett’s welcoming introduction, and he told the crowd, he asked, ‘Do y’all know what Dec. 9 is?’ Nobody did. He knew that was the day of the state championship, and he said we would be playing that day. … Part of me wants to say I’m surprised, but the guy called his shot.”
Prediction: 42-38 Gainesville
Sammy Smith, lifelong Gainesville resident and 15-year school board member
What he said: “The team is the talk of the town, especially with a first year coach, and they are certainly enjoying their new facilities, and I believe enjoying being the talk of the town.”
“I can tell you every year we played for the state championship and the opponent. I love history, and I love our sports history.”
Prediction: Gainesville win
Bruce Miller, former head football coach who won state championship in 2012
What he said: “It’s an unreal feeling. We won it on a Friday night, and we didn't get back here until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. And to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, did I dream that? Did that really happen?’ It was just an unreal feeling. It was the first time Gainesville had ever won it, and it was just a special time for the community.”
Jack Waldrip, Gainesville High defensive end in 1968 championship game
What he said: “We were picked to win, but between all the rain we were playing in and the muddy City Park field — it wasn’t kept up then like it is now — it neutralized our speed, our running game and we lost to a bigger team 6-to-nothing.”
“This whole winnin g season starts with our new coach Josh Niblett. He’s a real winner. How can you believe that he could go undefeated in his first season with a school that, based on the number of students who get involved in the football program, he’s taken a team that really should be a 3A division team and, in spite of it, has won in 6A ball. So I think this whole thing comes down to he's an incredible leader, a fine person. I think the kids all look up to him and will play as hard as they can to win this championship.”
Prediction: Gainesville win by a touchdown
Merrianne Dyer, former superintendent of Gainesville City Schools
What she said: “I've got my ticket and my pass from 2012 framed.”
“It takes all the stars lining up. … In 2012, we lost our next-to-last game of the season, and because of that loss, the seeding gave us a better, easier pathway, a more preferable pathway, to the finals. So it's so many things that have to fall into place for a high school to have an opportunity to play in the state finals.”
“Winning the state championship as superintendent, I was not prepared for how elated I would feel. It was kind of like the hurt from that many years ago — it was just so meaningful. I mean, it was exciting, and it was an honor and all of that, but personally it was so meaningful.”
Prediction: 28-21 Gainesville
Don Brewer, Gainesville High baseball and basketball coach in early 1970s
What he said: “Gainesville’s been a sports town and a football town for a long time, and the quest for excellence is really high in this town, and whether it comes from the town spilling over to the high school or the high school’s success spilling over to the community, I don’t know. I’ve lived here since 1969, and that’s the way it’s been. The standard of excellence is really high here, and this coach has come in and re-established that standard of excellence.”
Prediction: 35-28 Gainesville
George Groover, one of Gainesville High’s biggest sports fan
What he said: “I’ve been here 70 years. … I’ve seen all the finals from basketball to baseball to football. I’m just glad I’ll get to go because I didn’t know if I’d be able to.”
Prediction: 28-24 Gainesville
Trey McPhaul, Gainesville resident and sports fan
What he said: “Me and my buddy Brett Fowler put together two charter buses with 80-plus people to ride down to the game on Friday.”
“It's utter amazement, m an. To be able to come into any job, any role, any position in the first year and visit the mountaintop is impressive. Just the motivation for me, I’m in corporate America just thinking, ‘You can come into any role, any job, any position and excel in year one.’ It's given me the desire and the drive to be better at everything I'm doing.”
Prediction: 41-38 Gainesville