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Optimism easy to find as football season begins
Johnson, Dawson County already off to a good start with wins
North Hall’s Bradley Brown drops back top pass against Gainesville High last year at City Park Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Friday's games

Buford at Elbert County, 7:30 p.m.

Dawson County at Lumpkin County, 7:30 p.m.

East Hall at Chattooga, 7:30 p.m.

East Jackson at Banks County, 7:30 p.m.

Fellowship Christian at Lakeview, 7:30 p.m.

North Hall at Chestatee, 7:30 p.m.

Northside-Warner Robins at Flowery Branch, 7:30 p.m.

Oglethorpe County at Johnson, 7:30 p.m.

Union County at Towns County, 7:30 p.m.

White County at Habersham Central, 7:30 p.m.

Winder-Barrow at Jackson County, 7:30 p.m.

Jefferson at Commerce, 8 p.m.

Johnson High coach Jason Roquemore has a feeling the best is yet to come in 2012.

After the Knights (1-0) snapped a 12-game losing streak last Friday with a 19-13 win against West Hall, and with a schedule that includes no teams that had winning records last season, there will be plenty more opportunities for the program to get back on course after a winless 2011.

Although his senior class had just five wins in high school when he took over the Johnson program in June, he said a resilient spirit from his players is instrumental to what he believes will become one of the school’s best in recent seasons.

“When you have just five wins in three seasons, that’s hard,” Roquemore said. “But this program welcomed me with open arms.

“They also understand what I expect out of them in terms of accountability.”

Everyone already expects programs like Gainesville and Flowery Branch in Class AAAAA, and Buford in Class AAA (all ranked heading into Friday’s season openers) to remain deep playoff contenders with little drop off from last year. However, other area schools are also optimistic due to more talented rosters, a new head coach, or a combination of the two.

Dawson County (1-0) is a popular pick to have one of the biggest turnarounds in 2012. The Tigers are coming off a Week 1 rout of East Hall, 42-0, last Friday in Dawsonville. In that game the Tigers offense, led by senior quarterback Tyler Dominy, showed its potential.

Dawson County, which hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, is trying to navigate its way through a deep group of programs vying for the posteseason in Region 7-AAA.

Even though North Hall has been one of the area’s strongest programs in recent years, it experienced a bit of a bump in the road with a 4-6 record last year, its first losing season since 2001.

After winning 76 games from 2002-2009, Trojans coach Bob Christmas said that the thing that provided the biggest hindrance was missing an average of five starters per game due to injury last season. North Hall dropped its final three games in the regular season to miss the postseason last fall for the second straight year.

“In 37 years of coaching, that was the worst injury situation last year,” Christmas said. “It was just one of those weird, weird types of seasons.”

Although the Trojans compete in a deep Region 7-AAA, Christmas fully expects his program to take that step forward to posting a winning record and playing deeper into November.

“This bunch we have now is very focused and has a desire to be successful,” Christmas said. “When you have some tradition, it’s not hard to get the kids motivated.”

At Jackson County, first-year coach Benji Harrison is eager to take to the field Friday for his first game as a head coach, playing against Class AAAAA’s Winder-Barrow at Panthers Stadium. With 20 years since the Panthers’ last playoff appearance, he’s eager to help attach a new identity to the program.

Working in Jackson County’s favor in 2012 is having 12 returning starters, a good mix on both sides of the ball, and four of its first five games right at home in Jefferson.

“Our players are eager, hungry to be respected,” Harrison said. “But they know talk is cheap. They’re going to have to earn it on the field.”

Jackson County’s only road game during the first half of the season is against crosstown rival Jefferson on Sept. 7 at Jefferson Memorial Stadium.

“I think it is an advantage to have so many games at home early,” Harrison said. “It allows our kids to get in a routine without as many distractions.”

Lakeview Academy is also on an upswing heading into Friday’s game against Fellowship Christian on Friday at Jock Horner Field. The Lions have finished 4-4 the past two seasons, and are looking to post the first winning record in school history. For Lakeview, that’s certainly a realistic goal with 19 returning starters.

“Not to try and sound like John Wooden, but we’re just trying to be a little bit better than last time,” Lakeview Academy coach Matthew Gruhn said. “I know our kids are ready to play and have high expectations for themselves.”

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