We’re only a few days away from the first week of high school football in Hall County. Coaches, players and spectators alike are making last minute adjustments in preparation for the first Friday night of football this fall.
Here are five things to watch for among all of Hall County’s teams on opening night.
Will Gainesville improve on scrimmage performance?
Gainesville coach Heath Webb made no excuses for going 2-9 in 2018. On Aug. 16, its dress rehearsal was 24-14 loss to North Hall in front of a packed house at City Park Stadium.
The Red Elephants slated a tough non-region schedule, starting with Class 4A’s eighth-ranked Mary Persons on Friday in Gainesville, followed by 7A opponents North Forsyth and Lambert.
Five games in, Gainesville will have a good idea where it stands before the back half of the regular season, which will determine who goes to the playoffs.
In 2018, the Red Elephants went 0-5 in non-region play, but two wins in Region 8-6A were enough to extend its playoff streak to 19 seasons.
How will Flowery Branch offense look without Elijah Gainey?
Coming into the offseason, Flowery Branch was expected to be among the strongest of Hall County’s teams — even a potential region title contender. But a season-ending ACL tear for Falcons quarterback Elijah Gainey right before the start of the season throws the state of the team into doubt.
In Gainey’s absence, Flowery Branch will turn to sophomore quarterback David Renard, who spent all of last year backing Gainey up but gained plenty of valuable varsity experience. Renard doesn’t have Gainey’s level of experience, but he did get some playing time as a freshman, and even got a series with the starters in the Falcons’ preseason scrimmage against Dacula. The Falcons also have several supplemental pieces to the quarterback position, including a robust senior class of 20 athletes and star junior running back Jaizen Ellingham to help carry the offense in Gainey’s absence.
Still, how Flowery Branch responds to Gainey’s injury will likely define the season for the Falcons, and it all starts with the team’s opening game this week at home against East Hall.
How much has Cherokee Bluff grown in a year?
After an 0-10 first season, Cherokee Bluff opens again versus Whitefield Academy. The Bears lost its opener against the same opponent 33-0 last year in a rain-soaked field.
The Bears bring back virtually every starter from last year outside of quarterback Connor Boyd, so continuity will not be a concern for Tommy Jones’s group that is still searching for its first win in program history. That win may not come in Week 1 against a Whitefield Academy team that was a playoff contender a year ago, but Cherokee Bluff fans will certainly hope for a more competitive effort this time around.
How will new quarterbacks for North Hall, Riverside Military Academy fare?
Both the Trojans and the Eagles found success last season, each earning program first road playoff wins at the end of last season behind mobile senior quarterbacks. But North Hall’s David Seavey and Riverside Military’s Isaac Teasley are no longer in the picture, with new starters Trey Sanders and Shad Dabney taking over for the Trojans and Eagles, respectively.
Both teams depended more on the run than the pass last season and will likely look to the same strategy this year, but the player handing the ball off or keeping it to run himself still carries immense importance for each offense.
Whether North Hall and Riverside Military Academy will make a smooth transitions to new signal callers will likely become apparent early in the teams’ opening day games this Friday.
What will new head coaches bring to East Hall and Johnson?
Michael Perry (East Hall) and Stan Luttrell (Johnson) are the only newcomers among Hall County head football coaches this year, and Friday will be their first opportunity to make an impression on fans who will be expecting early success.
Both coaches have experience with Hall County football, with Perry having spent a number of years at Gainesville as an assistant coach, while Luttrell was head coach at Chestatee for the better part of a decade, so the pair bring high expectations to their new programs.
Perry will get his first shot to impress on the road at Flowery Branch this Friday, while Luttrell’s Knights will take on Oglethorpe Academy at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.