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HS football: East Hall aims to continue upward trend
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Building continuity is an annual struggle for East Hall, which breaks in a number of new players on a yearly basis.

Despite the difficulties, however, the Vikings were able to battle to five wins in 2011, falling just a play-in win short of the playoffs.

This season, East Hall will have to replace its two leading producers on offense, Cameron Davis and Jamond Witt. Witt graduated and Davis transferred to Flowery Branch.

But that doesn’t mean coach Bryan Gray expects a drop-off in the team’s success.

The team returns six starters on offense and eight on defense, and Gray expects new playmakers to fill holes.

"We feel like we’re in a good position," he said. "I think we’ve got a lot of good players that will certainly keep us in contention.

Offense

When it comes to the offensive side of the ball, Gray says the team is going to improve in the passing game.

"There’s no doubt about it," he said. "That’s been our focus. We want to improve the passing game to open up our running game."

That will begin, obviously, at quarterback, where Zach Groover and Devin Watson are competing for the starting spot.

Groover was originally slated to be the team’s starter in 2011 until an injury opened the door for Davis.

Gray said that one of those two, along with a stable of talented wide receivers, should actually help the team take a step forward.

Austen Mahaffey and Edward Vergara, third and fourth on the team in rushing last season, will be back to lead a deep corps of tailbacks. Quay Jarrels, Dre Brawner, Corey Reece and Juwan Merritt will also see plenty of carries.

It will be tough to replace the athletic Witt, but Gray sees plenty of talent in the backfield.

"I think we’ll be better for being able to rotate them in and out," he said.

Senior Devonte Benton will help open up holes for those runners. Gray said he believes Benton could be one of the most sought-after offensive linemen in North Georgia by season’s end.

Braden Jarrard, a four-year starter, will also play a significant role on the line.

Defense

A defense which returns most of the starters has Gray feeling optimistic about the Vikings’ chances on that side of the ball.

"We’ve got a quiet excitement about them," he said. "They’re very athletic and run extremely well. All the kids playing have either started or logged a lot of time.

"You can’t be successful without some experience."

He’s hoping that experience will help the Vikings continue to progress.

Benton and Cody Andrews, along with Xavier Hughey and Dustin Rogers will comprise a strong defensive front. Isaac Mize will help man the defensive backfield.

Rogers and Andrews are each four-year starters, which Gray says is significant.

"Understanding what people are doing and being able to adjust is important," he said. "You have to have kids who are confident in their techniques and fundamentals. You can’t just throw them out there and let them play."

Gray said the defensive line will need work simply because it lost the most from last season.

Special teams

Hugo Contreras will handle the kicking duties for East Hall, while Junior Lee will punt.

There are four or five players who are still battling it out for primary return duties, and Gray said there is a lot of defensive speed that will carry over to special teams as well.

Outlook

As with many teams in Region 7-AAA, East Hall figures to be firmly in the hunt for one of the four playoff spots.

It will be difficult for the team to improve by leaps and bounds, simply because of the lost production of running back Witt.

But deeper talent across the board could help the team step forward, perhaps into the playoffs.

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