Gainesville vs. Flowery Branch
7:30 p.m. Friday
Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park
Watch Jonathan Zopf's video report, talking with the Gainesville linemen and coach Bruce Miller
A brotherhood, a family, a stone wall. Those are a few of the words that the seven members of the Gainesville offensive line used to describe themselves, but their coach Bruce Miller had the best one-word summation: Unity.
"This group has just hung together, they’re the best we’ve got, and I have a lot of confidence in them," Miller said. "It seems like every game they amaze me a little bit more."
A year removed from starting four sophomores on the offensive line, the "baby line" of the Red Elephants is all grown up.
They anchor an offensive unit that is averaging 39 points per game and they are protecting one of the team’s most valuable assets in quarterback Blake Sims, who has been sacked only twice all year.
"Without them I wouldn’t be Blake Sims," the junior signal caller said. "I’d just be a nobody that’s just a quarterback that’s playing the position for fun.
"They work their butt off in practice, they work their butt off on Friday nights for me, and I just thank
them for everything that happens."
Sims showed his gratitude to his offensive line earlier this year, when after he was honored as player of the game against North Hall he turned around and gave the award to the guys up front.
"That really meant a lot to me," said Nick Williams, the lone senior on the junior-laden line.
Sims said giving that honor to his offensive line was a no-brainer.
"When people come up and say I had a good game I tell them to go tell my line," he said. "Without them I’d be nothing."
Williams has been a contributor on the offensive line since his freshman year, but it’s the bond between his cur-
rent linemates that makes this unit as strong as it has ever been.
"That’s what really makes this team is how united we are," the 5-foot-11, 225-pound center said. "We pretty much take it from the football field to everywhere else. We’re a band of brothers."
Whether it’s at Williams’ house grilling out and watching a Georgia football game, or seeing which lineman can eat the most wings — it’s a toss up between Williams, tackle Jacob Couch and guard David McCon
nell — the seven members of the offensive line are always together, and that turns into solid play on Friday nights.
"We can’t have one person do one thing wrong," Williams said. "Everybody working together, that’s how we get things done."
And they’ve gotten things done since Day 1.
As sophomores last season, the unit blocked for quarterback Justin Fordham, who threw for more than 3,000 yards, and for Kendrick Harris, who rushed for 985 yards and 11 touchdowns. Despite the success, the players admitted to feeling nervous when they were thrust into the starting role.
"We didn’t even know the full starting lineup until right before the game," said right guard Michael Waters.
"There were a bunch of butterflies," right tackle Taylor Stowe added. "But they went away and we came away with 55 points."
Finally being able to step on the field as Red Elephants was one reason why the butterflies went away so quickly.
"Playing for Gainesville means a lot to me," Couch said. "I’ve been watching them since the seventh grade. It was a big deal to start playing."
Added McConnell, "It was just awesome to put on the red and white and step out on to Bobby Gruhn Field."
"When we were little we would pretend that we were the Gainesville team," added Greg Stenzel.
After ridding themselves of the awe of playing for Gainesville, the young line got to work to make sure Fordham stayed on his feet. This year, with the more mobile Sims under center, that task has grown easier, but the unit is still focused on keeping their quarterback upright.
"Justin wasn’t a terrible runner," Stowe said. "He obviously wasn’t Blake, but he’s not bad."
"Either way we’re just blocking," Walters interjected. "Our goal is to not let any one get to ’em whether they can run or not."
Protecting their quarterback is their main priority, but according to Miller, the most impressive part of the line is their ability to make in-game adjustments.
"One the best things those guys do is they do a good job of recognizing defensive fronts and adjusting as the game goes on," said Miller, who takes suggestions from his linemen during the course of a game.
"As a coach that’s been around the game for a little while, you have to make yourself listen to them," Miller said. "If they think we can do something, I’ve got a lot of confidence in them."
Miller and the offensive line will need that confidence Friday as the Red Elephants play host to Flowery Branch for the Region 7-AAA championship.
The Falcons, who are averaging more than 36 points per game, also boast two Division-I prospects on their defensive line in Daniel Drummond and Izaan Cross.
"They haven’t seen the type of athletes at defensive end that Flowery Branch is going to put out there," said Miller, who will have Stowe lined up across from Drummond and Strickland against Cross. "But they’ve seen some pretty good ones in practice and against White County, and hopefully they can use all those techniques to execute what we need to do against them."
The line, which unanimously said the best defense they’ve seen all year is their own, isn’t worried.
"We give just as much effort against a not-so-good team as a good team," Williams said. "It’s all about protecting our quarterback, gaining yardage and scoring touchdowns."
If they do that, Miller knows his line will hold up.
"They just have to execute the fundamentals like they’ve done all year, and not go into a game like that and get rattled," he said. "They can’t forget about the fundamentals and forget about the details of the things they have to do and just line up and play."
That’s exactly what this band of brothers plan on doing.