High school football: Week 1 previews
All practices and scrimmages aside for Gainesville and West Hall, coaches Bruce Miller and Tony Lotti should discover in due time exactly what they have lining up for battle for Friday's Marvin Orenstein Kickoff Classic at Spartan Field.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Oakwood.
The summer has been what Miller calls a work in progress. He enters this season opener with only two returning starters on the offensive side. Lotti features a group that grew up fast over the course of last season, finishing at the 5-7 mark.
This will be the first meeting between both programs since 2011, in which the Red Elephants defeated the Spartans 41-0. But playing in a game tagged with a specific title certainly gives this non-region matchup quite the buzz.
“I thought it was a great idea, a way to honor Mr. Orenstein and the Orenstein family for all they do, as far as the local high schools,” Miller said. “I think it’s neat that coach Lotti came up with the idea and I endorsed it.”
Senior inside linebacker Kris Montague, one staple coach Miller expects to lead the defense, expressed his excitement for the new season after a long, hot summer packed with seven-on-seven drills and early morning practices. He hopes they can put on a good show for the Orenstein family that has spent decades giving back to the community.
Fourth-year Red Elephants defensive coordinator Mike Newton is also in a unique position of coaching against his former team. He coached the Spartans from 2007-2011.
“It’s huge,” Montague said before the team’s practice Thursday. “I think we prepared so hard. Coach Newton, him coming from West Hall, it’s a big game for him. So I think we prepared so hard to beat them.”
Central Gwinnett transfer DJ Irons is set to make his official debut under center for the Red Elephants.
“It’s been a great summer with these dudes, and I feel like I’ve been here for a minute,” Irons said of the team on Thursday.
Irons has plenty of tangibles at his disposal as a dual-threat passer for the Red Elephants. Coach Miller praised his signal caller’s playmaking abilities shown during the team’s scrimmage against North Forsyth last week, in which he completed 19-of-25 attempts. Now it’s just a matter of applying that to game situations according to Miller.
“DJ showed a lot of pocket presence, and doing what he needed to do to complete passes,” Miller said. “He was 17-for-25, which is to me, is just what you’re looking for. He made a couple of good runs. It’s just one of those things. ...It’s a work in progress.”
Irons, who facilitates a role that has held the spotlight at Gainesville for quite some time, is well aware of two household names that built a legacy before him. Irons has spent most of the offseason building camaraderie with his receiving corps, and he looks forward to the challenge of picking apart the Spartans defense tonight.
“I come here, and I know Deshaun Watson, great quarterback. Blake Sims, great quarterback,” Irons said. “I’m just trying to come here and make my own name.”
In order to keep West Hall’s athletic bunch a bay, the keys defensively according to Miller involve not giving up “the big play.” He will be keeping a sharp eye on the offensive and defensive fronts tonight as well, areas he feels might take some time to develop as the season progresses.
“We have got to come off the football, and I say every game is won by the offensive and defensive lines. It’s won at the line of scrimmage,” Miller said. “I think if you can’t win up front, it’s going to be a long night.”
The status of Spartans senior starting running back Tyrese Osborne is uncertain for tonight’s game, as phone calls to Lotti were not returned. Osborne is once again projected to be the team’s leading rusher this season. Others to carry the rock for the offense in event of his absence would include junior Cooper Adams and identical twin seniors Ashun and A.J. Favorite.
If Osborne suits up, he’ll have to go through a defense led by cornerback Kamden Young, Willie Brooks (LB), Keith Harris (LB) and Montague. Defensive end Trevor Calvert and West Africa move-in Herve Aklotsoe at nose tackle (6-foot-2, 230 pound) could be playing gatekeeper for Red Elephants as well.
“He (Osborne) better rush for 300 yards, otherwise they’re not gonna beat us,” quipped Montague. “He’s a good player, he really is. Me and him are good friends. So it’s going to be a great game. I get to play against some of my friends I’ve never played against before. That’s the [excitement] about playing against West Hall.”