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Gainesville ready for national spotlight
Gainesville High’s Tai-ler Jones awaits a pass during a recent practice at Gainesville. Jones and his teammates are participating a national 7-on-7 passing tournament this week at the Nike Complex in Beaverton, Ore. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller doesn’t put much stock in 7-on-7 passing tournaments, but even he’s excited about the Red Elephants’ next one.

With six coaches and 23 players by his side, Miller and the Red Elephants boarded a plane this morning headed for Portland, Ore. to compete in the second annual Nike 7ON National Passing Championships at the Nike Complex in Beaverton, Ore.

Gainesville is one of eight teams to participate in the two-day 7-on-7 tournament that starts Thursday with a round-robin tournament that will be used to seed the teams for Friday’s double-elimination championships. Gainesville is guaranteed to play at least nine games.

“What a great experience this is going to be,” Miller said of the all-expense paid trip. “It’s gonna be three days of no sleep, but it’s going to be worth it.”

Being invited to such an exclusive passing tournament came as a surprise to Miller.

“I first thought someone was kidding,” said Miller, who was told the news by assistant coach Todd Wofford. “I looked at Coach Wofford and asked, ‘What’s the rest of the joke?’”

There was no punch line, and soon Miller was trying to figure out how his team could afford to travel to Oregon and compete against the top two teams from California, Florida and Texas. Once he found out that Nike was footing the bill, Miller was all for the trip.

“How can you say no to that?” he said. “You make a cross-country trip and all you’re doing is spending time with your guys. The biggest thing is building relationships with teammates and coaches. That’s going to make a big difference this season.”

Gainesville received its ticket to the tournament in large part due to Blake Sims, Tai-ler Jones and Daunte Carr, who are all Division-I prospects, but Miller is going to take the opportunity to not only showcase his talented team, but display the type of football talent housed in Hall County and Georgia.

“Being invited says a lot about high school football in Georgia, and it speaks highly of Hall County football,” Miller said. “They take two teams from Texas, Florida and California, and if we can go out there and represent Georgia well, maybe they’ll start taking two from Georgia.”

The only team to represent Georgia last year was Henry County, which finished second despite being the underdog. Gainesville hopes to top that performance.

“It’s going to be a great feeling to go against the top guys,” running back Devon Pierce said. “We’re going to try to win, try to win it all.”

In order to do that, Gainesville will need a solid performance from Sims, who is looking forward to competing against some of the nation’s best.

“It’s real good for us to see what we match up with,” Sims said. “And for the people who are trying to go to college, we’ll get to see what else is out there.

“If we see someone better than us, we’ll come back and work even harder,” he added. “But we probably won’t see anyone better than us.”

While his players hope to win the tournament, Miller wants a team-building experience.

“No. 1, I want them to enjoy the trip,” Miller said. “No. 2, I’d like to compete. And No. 3, I want us to be better when we get off that plane than we were when we got on it.”

And what if they get off the plane holding the first-place trophy? Miller still says he won’t put any stock in the victory.

“That means we’re good in passing leagues,” he said. “But winning in the season comes down to blocking, tackling and mental toughness.”

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