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Lanier Christian is stepping into the world of eight-man football this season, under first-year coach Heath Kennedy.
Expectations are modest with a limited number of players (18) but returning talent at key positions, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
However, excitement is at a fever-pitch for the Flowery Branch private school, which now competes in the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools.
“The morale is high with the kids here at Lanier Christian,” said Kennedy, who takes over in football for the school’s athletics director Blake Anderson. “We’re going to have to grind this year but I’m excited about the direction of this program.
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With enrollment concerns, Lanier Christian made the decision in May, according to Kennedy, to play eight-man football, but fully expects to get back to playing with the customary 11 on each side, sooner than later.
Lanier Christian opens the season against King’s Way on Aug. 28 at Gainesville Middle School.
“I’m thrilled for these seniors,” said Kennedy, who has an extensive background coaching football and baseball. “The kids are excited. It’ll be a breath of fresh air to get to the stadium. Get back to the main thing and play for four quarters.”
League rules allow for eighth graders on the team, four this season in the case of Lanier Christian.
Kennedy has surrounded himself with a coaching staff full of savvy veterans. His right-hand man is David Stephens, who coached in the Georgia High Schools Association for more than 40 years, including a long run as an assistant coach at North Hall earlier this century.
“Coach Stephens has a high level of intelligence,” said Kennedy, who is most known as a head baseball coach at Winder-Barrow (2004-2006), Hebron Christian (2007-2012) and Flowery Branch (2017).
In football, Kennedy is a first-time head coach. His main experience is working with defensive backs and strength and conditioning during previous stints at Prince Avenue Christian, Hebron Christian and Elbert County. among others.
Lanier Christian’s experience in 2020 starts with senior quarterback Andrew Perry, who accounted for more than 1,100 yards of offense last season. Perry has a robust understanding of the Lightning’s playbook and at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds brings the dynamic of being able to run and pass.
“Andrew’s a very smart kid,” Kennedy said. “He could play at a lot of public schools.”
At running back, Lanier Christian will have ample talent with returning-senior fullback Isaiah Williams, who his coach calls a ‘5 yards a pop’ kind of talent.
“Isaiah is able to cut on a dime and really to fruition last season,” Kennedy said. “He plays very well in space.”
Isaac Dinn, a sophomore, will also get in running the ball for the Lightning.
In eight-man football, the offensive line is typically a center, two guards and two tight ends (who may also line up wide).
Freshman Cade Reed will be taking snaps, while the two guards are Quinn Winfrey and Gabe Jaramillo.
Tight end/wide receivers will include Wyatt Cash, a senior, and sophomore Ethan Burke.
On defense, a 2-3 formation, Perry will also play a huge role at free safety. Linebackers are Dinn, Williams and Carter Raulerson.
Kennedy said there may be some bumps in the road this season with so many new players and not a lot of depth. He hopes to add a few more players to the roster once the school doors open and the Lanier Christian coach is able to scope out the kids in the hallway to see who may want to try playing football.
However, he’s upbeat about high eighth-grade group, which is ripe with numbers and talent.
Kennedy believes, thanks to Anderson’s prior work, that the pieces are in place for a successful football program at Lanier Christian.
11. Wyatt Cash Sr. DB/TE
15. Andrew Perry Sr. QB/DB
24. Isaiah Wiliams Sr. RB/LB
71. Gabe Jaramillo Jr. OL/DL
22. Ethan Burke So. DE/TE
16. Isaac Dinn So. RB/LB
21. Luke Hopkins So. DE/TE
34. Seth Oakley So. DB/WR
10. Carter Raulerson So. QB/RB/LB
Asa Vivirette So. OL/DL
14. Jackson Barnett Fr. DB/QB/WR
17. Jed Bailey Fr. S/WR
75. Cade Reed Fr. OL/DL
60. Quinn Winfrey Fr. OL/DE
25. Zeke Clanton 8th LB/RB
44. Jordan Smith 8th DL/RB
75. Josh Waymack 8th OL/DL
54. Tony Shortride 8th OL/DL
August 28 KING’S WAY 7:30 p.m.
September 4 HOLY SPIRIT 7:30 p.m.
September 11 at Horizon Christian 5 p.m.
September 25 COVINGTON 7:30 p.m.
October 2 FIDELES 7:30 p.m.
October 9 at Pinecrest 7:30 p.m.
October 16 JOHNSON FERRY 7:30 p.m.
October 23 at Cherokee Christian 7:30 p.m.
October 30 at Unity Christian 7:30 p.m.
All home games at Gainesville Middle School