Elijah Gainey began to watch his dreams fall apart in the spring of 2015.
The love for football dwindled as his confidence plummeted, and so did his aspiration of becoming a Division I athlete. He nearly left the sport entirely.
Gainey did not disclose exactly what brought him to the crossroads as a ninth grader at Buford High School, but the direction of Flowery Branch’s head coach Ben Hall rejuvenated him back to hopefulness in the summer of 2015.
“He really instilled confidence in me and believed in me when I thought no one else would,” Gainey said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of what he did for me.”
The three-star junior quarterback out of Flowery Branch committed to South Alabama on June 15th, carrying a testimony inspirational to many at their lowest. It’s a welcoming story for the Division I program set on building a positive culture at the authority of head coach Steve Campbell.
Gainey gravitated toward quarterbacks coach Kenny Edenfield because of his “real knowledge” of the game and hands-on coaching philosophy. He saw the coach’s passion for teaching firsthand during camp this past spring.
“I really look forward to the future with him because I feel like it’s going to be a great one,” Gainey said. “They’re really heading in the right direction with recruiting and how they’re handling things. It’s just a great place.”
Hall knew Gainey was destined for a Division I program the first time he watched him throw. It was his first summer on the job, and Gainey’s first month with the Falcons’ program.
“He has the stature for it,” Hall said. “He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, strong and works hard in the weight room, but he’s very fluid in his mechanics. He’s really grown at that position over three years, but we knew early on that he had the tools for it.”
Something about Gainey made Hall trust him almost immediately, leading to a starting role behind center. In July of that year (one month after meeting the newcomer), Hall told the team Gainey would be the starting quarterback.
“Not many sophomores really start much,” Gainey said. “I was the one who he would signal to on the field, and I would signal to everyone else, which is really something sophomores don’t usually do — having to be in control of signalling calls to all the players.”
Hall trusted the signaler with throwing late in games when the pressure can be unbearably heavy.
“He’s a big, strong athletic kid with a strong arm,” Hall said. “Very few players have an arm that kid has, and he’s made the most of it.”
Gainey added, “All that (trust) just gave me confidence, helped me to get where I am.”
As he looks toward his move to Mobile in 2020, he feels peace. No longer does his college decision loom over him or his confidence betray him.
He’s looking forward to having his grandmother who lives in Pensacola, FL, 45 minutes from campus. And of course having a long, successful senior season with his Falcons.
Growth will continue as he enters a new phase of life, and Hall does not doubt the magnitude of it.
“He works to get better everyday,” Hall said. “Not only is he interested in bettering himself, but he betters the kids around him. That’s what I consider a true mark of a leader — when other kids are better when he’s around. He brings out the best in them.
“Moving into his senior year, he has really grasped that opportunity as a leader and he’s really blossomed there. He’s becoming more vocal, outspoken and that’s good to see at that position, especially being such a cerebral kid. He overthinks things at times and takes things to heart because he’s a pleaser. He wants to make our coaching staff happy and the players happy. Part of that growth is he’s taking some of that pressure off himself and has relaxed more. It’s fun to watch.”