Being in the right place at the right time pays off.
Gainesville junior Demichael Borders can attest. The Red Elephants outside linebacker made two such plays Friday to help his team to a 29-6 victory against Salem on a night the Gainesville offense struggled.
The first came in the final minutes of the first half. Borders and teammate Toddrick Turner jumped a screen pass, and Turner got his hands on the ball and couldn’t hold on before Borders came down with the ball and found the end zone 70 yards later.
Just like that, the Red Elephants were ahead 9-0 after a safety had provided their only previous points. Gainesville defensive coordinator Wayne Jones said he wasn’t surprised by the score from Borders, whom he affectionately calls “Wide Body.”
“He is a flat-out playmaker,” Jones said. “They all think they’re running backs once they get the ball on the defensive side of the ball.”
Borders originally thought Turner was about to come down with the pick. He didn’t mind finishing off the play.
“I thought to myself, ‘I have to do something with this,’” Borders said.
After a defensive stop on the ensuing Salem possession, Turner’s 72-yard punt return touchdown turned what had been a 2-point game minutes earlier into a 16-0 Red Elephants edge at the half.
Jones said he knew at that point, the lead was larger than what his defense was likely to surrender to the Seminoles. It all started with Borders’ dash to the end zone following his interception.
“That just turns the whole game around right there,” Gainesville head coach Bruce Miller said.
While the tangible impact of Borders’ heads-up play was quick and obvious, the intangible effects may have been just as important. Jones said it freed up his defense to just go out and play. Before that, in a tight game and following a week where the Red Elephants surrendered what he called two “blooper” touchdowns, Jones said it was like the Gainesville defense was walking on egg shells.
Borders’ pick turned out to be the second of six turnovers the Red Elephants forced, with those takeaways leading to 20 of Gainesville’s 29 points.
In fact, it was Borders’ recovery of a fumble on a punt return that set up the Red Elephants’ lone offensive touchdown in the last two minutes of the game to push it to the final margin.
“He picks it up,” Miller said. “And the game’s over, basically.”
Jones said both sides of the ball feel a responsibility to each other, and the Red Elephants defense showed that particularly well on Friday while the Gainesville offense couldn’t get in a rhythm.
“They feel like they have to do that for each other. They love each other just that much. Everybody wants to win. But there’s no selfishness at all,” Jones said. “When he came over and scored, he probably got patted on the head by more offensive guys than he did defensive guys.”
Then, Jones said, Borders was on the sideline cheering on his offensive teammates.
Borders didn’t play football in middle school, meaning he started his playing days within the past three years at Gainesville High. He came in as a running back but was moved to defensive back before the switch to linebacker this season.
Jones said Borders wasn’t sold immediately on the change, but the defensive coordinator stressed to him how important outside linebackers are in his 3-4 scheme. After making plays at linebacker in the spring, Borders began to embrace his potential at his new spot.
Borders said he tries to still play like a defensive back at linebacker. Miller said the Red Elephants outside linebackers are a hybrid of defensive ends, linebackers and defensive backs. Jones said Borders is one of the athletes Gainesville likes to bring from different spots where linemen can’t find them.
“You just never know where he’s going to be coming from every Friday,” Jones said.
Borders is part of a unit that continues to get stronger with the returns of defensive backs Chris Lyles and Lewis Cousins.
“Once they get comfortable, it will be hard for people to throw the ball on us consistently because we’re always creeping around,” Jones said.
Borders will remain an integral part of that mentality.
“He has really come on as a player,” Miller said. “He has worked at it and he’s gotten better and better. He gives our defense a big-play capability.”
It’s an important game for the Red Elephants (4-1, 4-0 Region 8-AAAAA) this Friday as they travel to play unbeaten and 10th-ranked Lanier (5-0, 4-0) in a matchup of the Region 8-AAAAA co-leaders in Sugar Hill.
“It’s going to be a very big game,” Borders said. “We’ve got to stay focused.”