Grovetown at Buford, 7:30 p.m., Friday
Murray County at East Hall, 7:30 p.m., Saturday
GAINESVILLE — Expectations, good and bad, accompany teams at the start of each high school football season.
Fans talk and speculate, the media writes and analyzes, but Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Gainesville Kiwanis Club at the Elks Club in Gainesville, the head coaches gave the inside track on their teams.
After an overall introduction by Fellowship of Christian Athletes Area Representative Jason Lester, and a standing ovation by those in attendance, the coach of each team in Hall County spent time at the podium.
And it was clear when they were finished, that a light-hearted attitude permeates everywhere but the fields on Friday nights.
For instance, fourth-year Lakeview coach Matthew Gruhn began his spill by debunking a long-standing myth.
"I’ve preached to my players from Day 1 that size doesn’t matter," said Gruhn of his team that has only one lineman that weighs in at 200 pounds. "I was wrong, it does matter, it matters a great deal."
Gruhn went on to say how blessed he felt to be at Lakeview.
"The bar of expectation is low," Gruhn said. "We don’t have lofty goals by other’s standards, but they are lofty goals for us — we’re trying to close the gap and be more competitive than we were a year ago."
Having a team that battled injuries throughout the 2008 season was both a blessing and curse for Johnson coach Paul Friel: he explained why.
"We played kids that had no business playing last year," he said. "We didn’t want them to play, but they did and it’s turned into a positive for us because we have experience."
North Hall coach Bob Christmas said he was, "cautiously optimistic," about his team this season, saying that they remind him of the 2006 Trojans.
"Coming into that year we’d graduated a lot of players," Christmas said. "So we played kids that were unknown to the area, but they didn’t stay that way.
"I like the mentality of this year’s team and the chemistry," he added. "We’ve got a bunch of hard-nosed kids."
Christmas ended his speaking time with what would become a running theme for the day: the level of competition in 7-AAA.
With the exception of Riverside Military and Lakeview Academy, each team in Hall County is a part of the same region and this year, the talent runs rampant.
"This region is the most competitive around," East Hall coach Bryan Gray said.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller echoed Gray, "This region is so much more competitive than it was when I first got to Gainesville (in 2002)," he said. "The region is quickly becoming known and we like that."
Miller also addressed the idea that this year’s Red Elephants’ team could make a run at a state title.
"There are a lot of expectations on us," Miller said, "but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
"We’ve got a chance to be pretty good — I make no bones about it — but it’s on paper and you know what you can do with paper.
West Hall coach Mike Newton also addressed how good Gainesville could be.
"My preacher said, ‘Your holiness is more important that your happiness," Newton said. "I’m going to have to say that to myself a lot after we play Gainesville."
Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell made light of the lack of expectations for this year’s War Eagles’ team.
"Scripture reads that man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart," Luttrell said. "Well, on the outside we don’t look like much but I’ve been coaching 12 years and this is the most enjoyable group I’ve coached."
First-year Riverside Military Academy Scot Sloan talked about the differences between his program and those of the men he shared a table with at the luncheon.
Aside from dealing with players from all different religions, creeds and nationalities; Sloan’s program also has to deal with not having summer workouts together.
"There’s no such thing as summer camps or passing leagues for us," he said. "I’m just glad that our kids find it back to Gainesville for the start of the preseason."