Early in 2019, the rising seniors on the Gainesville High football team got together for a player-organized meeting.
With offseason workouts quickly approaching, the oldest members of the squad needed to air out the ugly reality facing them as they entered their final year of eligibility.
“All the seniors coming up from this year, we’ve never had a winning season,” Makius Scott said. “We all wanted to change that.”
Red Elephants coach Heath Webb said he noticed the difference the first time he got the players in the weight room this January.
The team was more focused and driven, the players working with an increased sense of urgency.
“As a coaching staff, we kind of had a different sense of this group wants to be different,” Webb said.
So far, so good for Gainesville football.
The Red Elephants stunned No. 8 Mary Persons with an upset victory to start the year, and took down Class 7A Lambert on Sept. 6. Fresh off a bye week, Gainesville is now getting ready to keep the wins coming when in it takes on No. 7 Jefferson at City Park Stadium Friday in this week’s Times Game of the Week.
It’s the team’s first home game in a month, following a pair of road contests and a bye.
“Glad to be back at home,” Webb said. “There’s just something special about playing in City Park. It’s an awesome home field advantage. We learned some lessons going on the road, but at the same time, it’s great to be back in City Park.”
The Red Elephants enter the game as healthy as they’ve been all season. Webb said recovery has been the top priority for Gainesville in its week off as the players work through the typical bumps and bruises that come with every football season.
Beyond that, it’s been a week of careful game planning as the team prepares for Jefferson’s triple-option attack.
Both Webb and Scott said sticking to assignments defensively will be the biggest key to containing a Dragons offense that has put up 82 points in its first two games of the year. Scott added that the plan for he and the rest of the defensive line is to clean up the middle of the field to make the Dragons more predictable and easier to handle.
“We want them to bounce it outside for our linebackers and our DBs,” he explained. “Really they’re not going to be inside a whole lot running the little dive plays.”
Perhaps as important as the game this weekend is the progress Gainesville has made and will continue to make in the second year since Webb took over the team. Webb said this week he’s going to be looking specifically at the lines of scrimmage, as Jefferson has found success in recent seasons along the lines, and how the Red Elephants hold up on Friday will give him a good gauge of where they stand in that area.
Regardless, it’s undeniable that Gainesville has made strides in every facet of the game since a slow start to 2018. As the season moves along, the team should only continue to improve.
“They’ve been through some battles and really just kind of grown up,” Webb said. “That’s what you’re seeing, is a young football team from a year ago growing up and becoming a better football team now.”