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5 things to watch in 2021 Gainesville High School football season
Gainesville practice 2021
Gainesville High linemen go through drills at the Bruce Miller Field. - photo by Bill Murphy

If there’s one word that describes the Gainesville football program’s transition from the 2020 season to 2021, it’s continuity. 

Although the Red Elephants lost several starters at key positions to graduation, including three-year starting quarterback Gionni Williams, their coach Heath Webb said time on the job has made preparation for the season smoother and easier in each year since he took over the team. 

“I feel really good about where we’re at, largely due to the fact that it’s year four for me and my staff,” Webb said. “I feel like the continuity, the understanding of expectations, all that sort of stuff, familiarity with the coaches and the players, I just feel like we’re in a good place as far as that’s concerned.”

Gainesville has made it to the state tournament in each of Webb’s first three years with the team, and he’s hoping that this year’s revamped squad can keep that streak alive, starting with a matchup against Johns Creek in the Corky Kell Classic to begin the season on Aug. 20 at City Park Stadium.

2021 Schedule

  • Aug. 20 JOHNS CREEK 
  • (Corky Kell Classic)
  • Aug. 27 at Chattahoochee
  • Sept. 24 at Hillgrove
  • Oct. 1 at Lambert*
  • Oct. 15 SOUTH FORSYTH*
  • Oct. 22 at West Forsyth*
  • Oct. 29 DENMARK*
  • Nov. 5 at North Forsyth*

*Region games

Wright man for the job

Despite the departure of Williams, Gainesville will not have a hole at the quarterback position, as sophomore Baxter Wright slides into the full-time starting role, following substantial action as a freshman. 

Wright, who is already on the national radar as one of the top quarterback recruits for the class of 2024, has made strides in the offseason and impressed in the team’s spring game against South Gwinnett. 

“The progress that Baxter Wright has made from his freshman year to his sophomore year is significant,” Webb said. “So I feel like we’ll be able to open the offense up a little bit more.”

And while Wright’s physical skills have never been in question, taking on a leadership role will be new for the young signal caller who enters the year as “the guy,” according to Webb, for the first time in his high school career. 

It’s a challenge that the Red Elephants coach believes Wright is well equipped to handle. 

Wright started his career on a good note in 2020, when forced into action as a first-time starter in the Region 6-7A opener against Forsyth Central, he guided the Red Elephants to victory.

“He’s taken hold of that responsibility and has done a really good job of just being the vocal leader that he needs to be,” Webb said. “I’m just excited to see him grow as a person and grow as a football player.”

Next man up at tackle

Ever since Webb arrived at Gainesville and proclaimed it a “Love a lineman” program, the results have shown up on the field. 

The Red Elephants have had their starting left tackle leave for Division-I programs in each of the last two years, with Jordan Williams starting 9 of 10 games at left tackle last season for Georgia Tech and Ced Nicely now a freshman at Ole Miss. 

During the offseason, Gainesville graduate Makius Scott, a defensive tackle, moved to Georgia Tech from South Carolina. 

Webb is hoping to keep that streak going with Elijah Ruiz, who will kick out to tackle after spending the last two seasons as Gainesville’s starting center. Ruiz, a senior who is listed as 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds on, was already receiving some recruiting attention, but Webb believes his position switch this year is only going to make him more sought after.

“We feel like he’s a Division-I football player as well,”  Webb said. “And he’s got some college opportunities already, but I feel like he’ll have those big time opportunities once everybody gets to see how he plays at tackle.”

Setting the tone up front

With six starters from 2020 now graduated, the Red Elephant defense is going to look a bit different in 2021, but at least one unit on that side of the ball will remain largely unchanged: the defensive line. 

Gainesville’s trio of Khaliq Maddox, Qua Coley and Jean Richemond all started last year, and all three will be seniors this season looking for their most productive years yet. Webb said he’s hoping those three players will help to lead the way for inexperienced units at the second and third level.

“If those guys play the way they’re capable of playing, we won’t have to cover people very long because they can put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks,” Webb said.

Skill-position overload

Wright is going to have ample help on offense with his skill players. Junior Naim Cheeks is back after running for 555 yards in 2020. 

At wide receiver, the talent for the Red Elephants is almost 10 deep. 

JQ Drinkard will be one of the many talented targets for Wright. He topped 400 receiving yards last season. 

Keeping the streak alive

Gainesville has the talent to extend its current 21-year run of consecutive playoff seasons. However, it’s still seeking the first playoff win under Webb. 

To make it into the postseason is a challenge in itself. 

The Red Elephants play against the six Class 7A schools in Forsyth County — all talented enough to make a run to the postseason. 

In 2020, Gainesville lost to the eventual region champion, West Forsyth, by seven points and the region runner-up, Denmark, by 3. The Red Elephants beat the last-place team, Lambert, by seven points. 

In 2021, Webb expects it to be just as close again. 

2021 Roster

1. Sam Perry RB/LB Sr.

2. DJ Miller WR/DB Sr.

3. Marcere Walker WR/DB Sr.

5. Elias Ballard WR/DB Jr.

6. Demarrie Hayes RB/LB Sr.

7. Qua Coley TE/DE Sr.

8. Tyvez Bledson DB/WR Sr.

9. Naim Cheeks RB/DB Jr.

10. JQ Drinkard WR/DB Sr.

11. Baxter Wright QB So.

12. Ellis Pitts WR/DB So.

13. Isaiah Yarbrough WR/DB Sr.

14. Jalani Andrews WR/DB Jr.

15. Cash O’Callaghan QB/DB Sr.

16. Chamarion Bush WR/DB Sr.

17. Zander Lipscomb WR/LB Jr.

18. Ja’Quez Sims WR/DB Jr.

19. Samaj Brown TE/DE Fr.

20. Kylan Hall WR/DB Fr.

21. Jayvion Sims WR/DB Sr.

22. Zyrion Harrison WR/DB Jr.

23. Nasir Summerour WR/LB Jr.

24. Dayshun Summerour RB/LB Sr.

25. Dre Raven WR/DB Jr.

26. Cam Goss WR/DB Sr.

27. Marquis Ross RB/LB Jr.

28. Stacy Hopkins OL/LB Jr.

29. Trent Jones WR/DB Fr.

30. Zarion Harvey RB/DL So.

31. Mori Young RB/DB Jr.

32. Josiah Thompson RB/LB Fr.

33. Aveion Young WR/LB Jr.

34. RJ Jenkins WR/DB Jr.

35. Zyon Chatman WR/DB Fr.

36. Clyde Jones WR/DB Fr.

37. Jaylen Smithson WR/DB Fr.

38. Angel Benitez WR/LB Jr.

39. Dalton Saye RB/LB Fr.

40. John Collins WR/DB So.

41. Jeremiah Glasper RB/LB Fr.

43. Bruno Cervantes RB/LB Fr.

50. Keith Motes OL/DL Sr.

51. Wil Turner OL/DL Fr.

52. Roc-Quay Finch OL/DL Fr.

53. Brandon Bailey OL/DL Fr.

55. Jamel Jones OL/DL So.

56. Elijah Ruiz OL/DL Sr.

57. Malik Harris OL/DL So.

58. Christian Green OL/DL So.

60. Carter Loyd OL/LB So.

63. Braylon Randolph OL/DL Jr.

64. Lacorey Hutchinson OL/DL Jr.

66. Carol Brown OL/DL Sr.

67. Kane Blanchard OL/DL So.

69. Ethan McCusker OL/DL Sr.

70. Noe Covarrubias OL/DL So.

71. Alex Payne OL/DL Fr.

72. Jorge Burciaga OL/DL So.

73. Edgar Ortega OL/DL Jr.

74. Uriel Avila Avellandeda OL/DL So.

76. Tanner Valentine OL/DL Sr.

78. Erick Willock OL/DL Jr.

80. Octavian Demory WR/DE So.

81. Justin Hudson WR/DB So.

82. Ramone Aragon WR/DB So.

84. Kaleb Watt WR/DB Fr.

86. Jeremy Aponte-Montalvo WR/DB So.

89. Julius Columbus TE/DE Fr.

90. Giovanni Martinez K/P Sr.

91. Adrian Cheek OL/LB Jr.

92. TJ Putman OL/DL Sr.

93. Alfredo Ruiz K/P Sr.

94. Jarrious Harris OL/DL Jr.

96. John White K/P So.

97. Jean Richemond OL/DL Sr.

0. Smith McGarvey QB 8th