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High school football: Ample optimism attached to spring football scrimmage performances
West Hall's Maliek Richardson (33) goes in for a score against North Hall in the spring scrimmage May 19, 2023 in Oakwood. Photo by Bill Murphy

If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, North Hall is going to have a prolific passing attack in 2023. 

And Gainesville will be loaded for another run at a state championship in Class 6A, bringing back 3,000-yard passer Baxter Wright at quarterback, along with a handful of new impact players on each side of the ball who are expected to become starters. 

Meanwhile, Cherokee Bluff quarterback Asher Wilson, a senior, and East Hall sophomore Jamarcus Harrison continue to make great strides at their position, which was shown during spring-scrimmage performances. 

“The spring football game is very important for the evaluation process,” East Hall coach Matt Turner said. “For us, we were sloppy at times, but sometimes we looked good. We’re going to try and build off the things we do well.” 

That’s just a few of the takeaways for programs in Hall County, now that spring football contests are in the books and all 11 programs are looking to build for the upcoming season. 

During the spring game, Trojans senior quarterback Tanner Marsh, who is back to full health after missing most of 2022, threw for 321 in the first half, while his main receiving target Ryals Puryear had 272 receiving yards and four scores in their scrimmage outing against West Hall on Friday. 

In all, North Hall scored on nine of 10 offensive possessions, Trojans coach Sean Pender said. 

“Their quarterback was throwing dimes,” West Hall coach Krofton Montgomery said. 

And that was without one of its biggest offensive weapons, senior Ajay Jones, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury during baseball season. 

However, Trojans coach Sean Pender expects Jones, the fastest player on the roster, to be ready to go by the time practice starts in late July. 

With that, the cat’s out of the bag that North Hall will, once again, be a contender in Region 8-4A. 

Despite scoring more points in the first half of the scrimmage, Pender agrees that spring football is more about evaluating players in game-like situations and putting the best players in positions to be successful than trying to notch an off-season win. 

“I feel like we’re much improved this year,” said Pender, who guided the Trojans to a 3-7 mark last season. “We have a lot of film to look at and a lot of players who we’re going to see what they do best.” 

Wins and losses are not the most important thing that can be gleaned from the first time under the lights for 2023. 

Against North Hall, the Spartans were able to punch it in the end zone six times, which gave Montgomery ample optimism that they’re headed in the right direction. 

West Hall is expecting big things from senior running back Maliek Richardson, who only saw action in two games last season because of an ankle injury. He’s also West Hall’s starting middle linebacker. 

In the spring scrimmage, Richardson’s biggest play was a long touchdown run in the second quarter. 

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Montgomery said. “He’s a great player on defense who can run the rock, too.”

In addition, West Hall has experience under center with sophomore Brett Sturm running the offense, behind a talented offensive line, anchored by guard Brice Reed and 325-pound tackle Jay Nero. 

“We played physical and showed a lot of maturity,” Montgomery added. “We were able to move the ball and put points up on the board, so I felt good about that.”

Here’s a look at 10 other players (in alphabetical order) who stood out in spring practice for programs in Hall County: 

1. JACOB CHRISTIAN, East Hall: A playmaker on both sides of the ball for the Vikings, he pulled down a number of catches, while recording a number of tackles in the backfield from his spot at linebacker against East Jackson. 

2. MALIK DRYDEN, Flowery Branch: Senior running back who, at 6-1 and 210 pounds, appears ready to have a standout season for the Falcons in 2023. 

3. ZION FERGUSON, Gainesville: The rangy LSU commit at defensive back has been generating ample buzz with the Red Elephants since moving in from Grayson. 

At 6-feet and 180 pounds, he’s got elite playmaking ability, which he displayed for the Red Elephants in the spring game against Alpharetta. 

4. ETHAN FETTERMAN, Flowery Branch: Senior defensive end who was continually in the backfield in the spring game against White County. 

Also provides a strong target at tight end at 6-4, 225 pounds. 

5. GAVIN HALL, Gainesville: Senior running back who has already shown bursts for the Red Elephants since moving in from Hebron Christian. 

In 2022, he was First-Team All-State in Class 3A at quarterback for the private-school program in Gwinnett County, accounting for more than 4,000 yards of offense.

6. CAM HAYNES, Flowery Branch: Senior linebacker with ideal size (6-1, 225) who was all over the field for the Falcons in the spring game against White County. 

7. BRECKAN KIRBY, North Hall: Powerful senior tight end for the Trojans who has bulked by to 225 pounds for his 6-3 frame. Trojans coach Sean Pender plans to line Kirby up in a number of positions to try and get him in space to catch the ball.

8. SETH LARSON, Flowery Branch: The three-time state champion wrestler is bound for a breakout season at wide receiver for the Falcons. During the spring game, he caught two touchdowns in the first half, one an amazing diving grab in the back of the end zone over a defender against White County. The senior is back to full health after missing most of the 2022 season with an injury. 

9. CHAMP THOMPSON, Gainesville: Senior 280-pound defensive tackle who is committed to Clemson and is primed to fill a huge role up front for the Red Elephants since moving in from Gwinnett County’s Meadowcreek. 

10. TRAVIEN WATSON, Gainesville: The senior wide receiver pulled down two touchdown grabs for nearly 200 yards for the Red Elephants in a dominating showing against Alpharetta. He’s coming off an 800-yard season in 2022 for the Red Elephants. 

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