Friday’s first round games
Flowery Branch (8-2) vs. North Paulding (7-3)
Gainesville (7-3) vs. Rome (8-2)
Chestatee (8-2) vs. LaGrange (5-5)
North Hall (8-2) vs. Woodward Academy (7-3)
Buford (7-3) vs. Cedar Grove (6-4)
White County (7-3) at Blessed Trinity (8-2)
Dawson County (6-4) at St. Pius X (8-2)
Jackson County (6-4) at Cartersville (10-0)
Jefferson (9-1) vs. Kendrick (5-5)
In the case of Gainesville’s Devan Stringer, natural athletic ability and football acumen more than compensate for less-than-ideal size as an inside linebacker.
Listed 5-foot-10 and a generous 190 pounds, Stringer has never shied away from contact, even though he’s often times one of the smallest players around the ball for the Red Elephants (7-3), who open Class AAAAA postseason play against Rome (8-2) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at City Park Stadium.
“Devan has something as a linebacker you can’t teach,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “He’s got a great nose for the football and is a such a great athlete.”
Stringer had two major hurdles to clear when he stepped into the Gainesville starting lineup early last season as a sophomore against North Hall. First, he wanted to show he could play the position just as well as some of the linebackers in recent seasons at the school, such as Division-I college signees A.J. Johnson and Thomas Sprague.
He also wanted to make it clear that his passion for the game would trump his average size in the middle of the defense.
“Those were tough shoes to fill but I like to play with a chip on my shoulder,” said Stringer, who started his high school career as a scrappy 150-pounder. “I’ve never been the type to back down.”
“I’ve not heard that before about him playing with a chip on his shoulder but it makes sense,” Gainesville defensive coordinator Jim Pavao said. “He’s got a great competitive nature and he always wants to do his job.”
The numbers spell out that Stringer is one of the best linebackers in the area with 132 tackles for the season. Miller and Pavao say just as important is Stringer’s consistency.
Stringer knows where he’s supposed to be at all times. If he makes a mistake, more often that not, he knows it before a coach points out his error. Gainesville’s leading tackler is also well versed in everything from proper angles to good footwork. And as a smaller linebacker, he also knows how to get proper leverage to bring down bigger running backs.
“Devan always knows what his responsibility is on a given play,” Pavao said. “He’s never done a poor job at anything.”
Pavao says that Stringer’s performance in Gainesville’s win against Buford earlier this season perfectly illustrates his impact on the program. Stringer finished the game with 12 tackles, but equally as important was the fact that he only missed two assignments against a run-first Wolves.
With timed 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Stringer is quick enough to stuff the run game at the line of scrimmage or drop back into coverage against the pass.
Miller says that on almost every play when Gainesville’s defense is on the field, Stringer has an impact.
“If we had a picture at the end of every defensive play, Devan would be in it,” Miller said.
“He’s always around the football.”
Pavao compares the natural instinct needed to be a good linebacker with that of a running back. Stringer clearly has it. He knows which technique to use in a given situation. His fundamentals are superior. And he has the vision to sniff out blocking schemes used by an offensive line.
“A lot of it comes down to God-given ability,” Pavao said.
Miller knew three years ago that Stringer was going to be special. As an undersized eighth grader in the Gainesville Middle School program, Stringer was already mastering the art of getting to the football.
Now, Stringer wants to do what other great linebackers have been able to with the Red Elephants: lead a deep playoff run.
“We’re very excited to get going in the playoffs,” Stringer said. “We have a lot of playmakers and feel like we’re going to be dangerous.”