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Area coaches optimistic prior to starting season
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In a normal circumstance, North Hall High’s Bob Christmas and Gainesville High’s Bruce Miller would see each other from across the football field on the sidelines, where the two coaches would be competing against each other.

But they — along with six other Hall County coaches — were all sitting at the same table on Tuesday at Elk’s Lodge during a lunch organized by the Kiwanis Club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, acting friendly and cracking jokes.

And with the majority of area schools kicking off the season on Friday, Tuesday’s annual coaches lunch — each coach was given the opportunity to speak about their team for several minutes — served as an indicator the season is right around the corner.

“This is kind of that unofficial start of the season,” East Hall High coach Bryan Gray said after the lunch. “When you’re at the Kiwanis Club, you know it’s coming. You get the butterflies, you sit here thinking of what you’re going to say, and then you realize, ‘Wait a minute, I play in three days.’

“It kind of all starts to come out and you leave here ready to hit the field.”

One Hall County team, Riverside Military Academy, has already taken the field. Last Friday in Cumming, the Eagles defeated Pinecrest Academy 7-3 in first-year coach Chris Cotter’s debut.

On Tuesday, Cotter was just glad to be amongst his coachign peers as the only one with a win.

“This is awesome,” Cotter said. “This is a great opportunity for me to sit and talk with the legends of the game and, being a first-year head coach, just to rub elbows with these guys — I feel like I’m learning something already.

“To have a game under our belt starting in Week 0 is helpful for us, although I’m not like the other schools because we don’t have our kids all summer. The first time I see my kids is on Aug. 1. And with 47 of the 52 (players) new, it makes you earn that ‘C’ on your chest, no question about that.”

Highlights from each coach’s speech on Tuesday:

Gray, East Hall: “I’m excited about the new season and I feel like this year we have a real chance to be competitive in Region 8-AA. We’re in year four of a five-year plan and we’re facing a new challenge. I feel like, in AA, we’re where we belong, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity of renewing some area rivalries.

“If we can get through our first four games of the season healthy, we’ll head into our region schedule with a real chance at making the playoffs.”

Stan Luttrell, Chestatee: “After a pair of 4-6 seasons in a tough region, we’re moving to a new region that’s tough and I look forward to playing a subregion schedule (In Region 8A-AAA) because three teams on each side have a shot to make the playoffs.

“We don’t have any superstars, so we’ll have to do this as a team. And we’re young — we have 11 seniors, 10 juniors and the rest are sophomores and freshman.”

Christmas, North Hall: “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We had a shaky scrimmage and only played two quarters because of lightening. ... I hate having an open week to start the season, but we need it. We’ve got a brutal schedule the first three games with Jefferson, St. Pius X and Gainesville, so we could start 0-3 pretty easily.”

Paul Friel, Johnson: “This is probably the youngest team I’ve ever had here. We lost some guys in the secondary, our defensive line is new and we have an all new offensive line. We’ve had a good offseason. This team has character, puts forth good effort and they work good together. They’ve come along way.”

Mike Newton, West Hall: “I like our group. We’re very young. I had nine kids in our scrimmage experiencing varsity football for the first time. Shunquez Stephens is a key leader and we have six or seven other seniors who need to step up.

“I don’t know about wins or losses, but I told the kids to not worry about the scoreboard and just go out and play the game.”

Lee Shaw, Flowery Branch: “This is a new beginning for our program moving into AAAA. We went 6-24 our first three years as a program, so I hope it’s nothing like that. I don’t know if we’re jumping into the fire, but I feel good about where we’re coming from. I feel like we’re prepared for the sesaon and we want to represent Hall County.

“Hopefully in all this change, you guys won’t forget about us.”

Cotter, Riverside Military Academy:
“This is my first year as coch after being defensive coordinator the last two seasons. 47 of the 52 kids are new to the academy and 38 have never played football. And I changed the offense and defense. We have freshman everywhere.

“I feel like we’re where we belong in Class A, but we play in an unreal subregion with some great teams. But we’re excited and we’ll show up on Friday night.”

Miller, Gainesville: “If A.J. (Johnson) can play all 22 positions this year, we’ll be OK. We’ve got (Thomas) Niles too, so that helps. We’ve got a mixture of younger and older players and we’ve graduated players to Notre Dame and Alabama and have no one to replace them with.

“We’ve got Buford the first game of the year, so that should be exciting. ... I still don’t know who our starting quarterback is. I’ll decide that on Wednesday. It could be a revolving door all year, but I think either will be on the field at the same time if not at quarterback.”

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