High school football previews: Week 1
Gainesville at Buford
When: 7 tonight
Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
Radio: 1240-AM, ESPN360.com
Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Buford, Jess Simpson
Records: Gainesville (0-0), Buford (1-0)
Key players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-2, 185 So.), DB Fred Payne (5-9, 165 Jr.), RB Rayshon Thomas (5-4, 150 So.). Buford, TE/LB Dillon Lee (6-5, 240 Sr.), OL/DL Vadal Alexander (6-6, 340 Sr.), FB/LB Andre Johnson (5-11, 215 Sr.).
Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves experienced and very talented offense is able to pick apart a young Red Elephants defense.
Last Friday, Gainesville High coach Bruce Miller was right there in the bleachers in Roswell as the four-time defending Class AA state champion Buford (1-0), tonight's season opener for the Red Elephants in Buford, crushed Blessed Trinity in its season opener 42-0.
He didn't fret about what he saw; Miller already knew Buford is an elite team.
Simply put, Buford is massive across the line of scrimmage, has a tenacious running game and doesn't miss when they have a chance to score.
To make the Wolves even more imposing is the amount of depth they have at most positions. The Wolves leaned on Blessed Trinity all night and used 18 different running backs to gain 277 yards on the ground.
"It's amazing how good they are," Miller said. "You like to feel going into a game that there's some things that weight in your favor, but in this case there's not a lot."
What's most impressive about Buford? Miller says the defense.
"When they're on the field, they (Buford) look like a Division I-AA college team," Miller said. "In fact, they may be better than some of them."
But Gainesville does plan on coming at the top-ranked Wolves with all its got.
Certainly having a dual-threat quarterback like sophomore Deshaun Watson, a 2,000-yard passer in 2010, helps the cause for the Red Elephants.
Also, sophomore running back Rayshon Thomas got considerable playing time last season for Gainesville, which will help in a high-pressure environment.
"The quarterback and the skill folks around him make Gainesville's offense extremely hard to defend," Buford coach Jess Simpson said.
However, the biggest key for Gainesville will be to just be calm: There's not going to be any easy freebies against a defense as disciplined as Buford's.
"We have to nickel and dime them," Miller said. "We're just going to have to stay patient.
"Then on top of that, we're just going to have to hope to catch a break."
Gainesville's players know the atmosphere that comes with a game against Buford.
Last season, the Red Elephants opened with a 40-19 loss to the Wolves at City Park, but still rebounded in fine fashion with 10-straight wins and a third-consecutive region title.
"We know Buford is going to come at us hard and be a really tough game," said senior wide receiver Stephen Mason. "It's like a playoff game to open the season."
Miller says that playing Buford to open the season does have a distinct advantage. Losing the way they did last season got the team's attention and rallied them all together for the games that mattered most in region play.
"We sell the kids on the fact that this is an opportunity, and not the end of the season," Miller said. "I know our team is going to go out there and battle."
"We're going to go out and play as hard as we can," said senior wide receiver Ryan Griffith. "We can't go in there expecting to lose."
Probably the biggest unknown for Gainesville is how its young defense, with only three returning starters, will respond in this kind of environment.
Miller noted that they can't allow Buford's offense to play on a short field and expect to keep them out of the end zone.
Another pressing need for Miller is to get his team back in the win column.
He points to the loss to St. Pius X in a scrimmage and last year's second-round playoff loss to Cedar Grove as a bad taste they want to get out of their mouths.
"Playing Buford is a good opportunity for us," Griffith said. "It's really going to measure how we stack up against the best."