Class AAA state championship
Peach County vs. Gainesville
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Georgia Dome
Three words summarize Gainesville’s journey to today’s Class AAA state championship game against Peach County.
Those three words are prominently visible at the practice field, in the halls of the field house, and in the weight room. They provide every player, in case he forgets, with a reminder of why he plays football at Gainesville High.
The three words aren’t “Win a championship,” although the top-ranked Red Elephants (14-0) are one win away from doing just that. These three words have less of a defined meaning and more of a defined philosophy.
The three words? Finish the drill.
“It’s pretty simple,” senior Teryan Rucker said of the meaning of the phrase. “(It means) to bring home a state championship and finish what we started.”
For Rucker and several of his senior teammates, that drill began nearly 10 years ago when they could only dream of winning the first GHSA state football title in Gainesville history.
“Finish the drill means something that the class of 2010 started when we were 9-years-old in park and rec when we had that dream of winning a state championship,” senior Alberto Sanabria said. “Ever since then, we’ve been working in the weight room, classroom and field to accomplish a dream that we’ve all had and are about to get at 4:30 (today).”
In the way of that dream is Peach County (14-0), a team that boasts just as much speed as Gainesville and possibly as much talent, but the players aren’t going to let those facts stand in the way of their stated mission.
“It means we have to do in the 15th game what we have in the past 14,” senior Jacob Couch said. “Have the same focus, same mentality, same determination and the same result.”
Through 13 of those 14 games, the result was a convincing win against every opponent, but that all changed in the semifinals against Flowery Branch when Gainesville really had to dig down to finish the drill.
“When you’re in the fourth quarter knowing you’re tired, you just have to finish the drill,” said senior quarterback Blake Sims, who exemplified that statement during the win over the Falcons. “When that buzzer goes off and you win, and you still can’t walk, that lets you know you finished the drill.”
The Red Elephants are assuming they’ll be in for that type of battle today, and before they even step on the field at the Georgia Dome, they’ll think about what it means to finish the drill.
“It means putting someone on their back,” senior Greg Stenzel said.
“It means leave it all on the field and have no regrets,” senior Caston Davis said.
“It means work as hard as you can and never give up,” senior Graham Simmons added.
“It means going hard for four quarters and finishing the game like you started it: strong,” Tevin Yarbrough said.
If they do that, and if the 14 games leading up to the title game are an indication, the Red Elephants will indeed be able to finish the drill.
“We started the season with a goal,” senior Thomas Sprague said. “I don’t think we’re gonna stop fighting until we get that goal.”
If they do stop fighting, which he doubts will happen, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller will pull his team aside and tell them his meaning of finishing the drill.
“It means that you’ve come so far and to see it through to the finish; whatever it takes,” Miller said. “Most people want to quit right before success gets there. Go after the success with everything and grasp as high as you can get.”
The Red Elephants are on the verge of the highest point in high school football, and according to one player, this team is ready to prove they’re ready to finish the drill.
“It means just going out there and showing the character that’s been developed in us over the summer working out hard,” senior David McConnell said. “Just giving it your all and showing that Gainesville is No. 1 at everything and we’re going to do that by winning a state championship.”
If they do that, the 79 players and 15 coaches will successfully accomplish what no other football team at Gainesville or in Hall County has ever been able to do: Finish the drill.