It only took three weeks into the 2009 high school football season for the rest of the state to realize that the Gainesville Red Elephants are the best team in Class AAA.
The Red Elephants (3-0) were named the No. 1 team in the classification Tuesday by the Associated Press, gasports.com and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, making it the first time since 1983 that Gainesville has been the unanimous No. 1 squad.
"I notice a lot of similarities between that team and this team as far as character and determination to play well," said Mark DeFoor, an assistant coach at Gainesville who played on the 1983 team. "Watching these guys brings back memories from that period and I remember how fun it was and how hard we worked."
This group of Red Elephants also stirs up memories for Jack Waldrip, who played for Gainesville in the late 1960s and has been a fan of the program ever since.
"I’m proud to see them No. 1 again," Waldrip said. "They seem to have put together a great group of young men and I know they’ve worked hard to get to this point."
Gainesville’s last rise to No. 1 came on Oct. 29, 2003, when it was given the AP’s top spot in Class AAA after Screven County lost to Swainsboro. But even then, the AJC ranked a 7-1 Peach County team ahead of the Red Elephants, who were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round.
"The rankings don’t mean anything right now," said DeFoor, whose ’83 team lost to Marist in the state semifinals. "It’s great to be ranked No. 1, don’t get me wrong, but anyone can get beat on any given Friday."
While the attitude around the team has not changed with the new ranking, people affiliated with Gainesville have been holding their heads a little higher after the No. 1 ranking was announced.
"I think it is really big here locally because you see pride in all the people that went to Gainesville High," Waldrip said. "I’m sure it is going to make it exciting when everybody comes out and watches this great team play."
Gainesville’s first test as the top team comes Friday when it plays host to North Hall, and if the Red Elephants pull off a victory over their rivals, the amount of pride in the community will do nothing but grow.
Just like it did 26 years ago.
"It is fun to be around these guys and see the enthusiasm they have," DeFoor said. "It is a lot like what we had back then."