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High school football: Gainesville set to honor 23 players on Senior Night at City Park Stadium
Defensive end Ethan Reeves will draw the biggest cheers after offseason accident that left him unable to play in 2020
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Gainesville High quarterback Gionni Williams cuts a way from Flowery Branch defenders Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, during the first half of their game at The Branch. - photo by Scott Rogers

Senior night will be an emotionally-charged event Friday at City Park Stadium. 

For Gainesville (1-1), 23 football players will be honored prior to facing Discovery, its first home outing of the season. 

Typically reserved for the final home game of the regular season, Gainesville will honor its nearly two-dozen seniors on its first time on the home field, due to lingering uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And for the Red Elephants, no player will be greeted with a more hearty reception than defensive end Ethan Reeves, who was critically injured on August 1 in an all-terrain vehicle accident, which leaves him physically unable to play this season, their coach Heath Webb said.

Reeves is one of many who started as a sophomore when Webb took over at Gainesville in the 2018 season. 

And Reeves’ response to the hand he’s been dealt has drawn even more reverence from players and coaches in the Red Elephants’ program. 

“When I came in at Gainesville, Ethan was one of the players who really helped change the culture of the program,” Webb said. “(Ethan) He’s everything you want out of a player and a person in the program.”

Reeves is not alone in players who had to step up and play for the Red Elephants early in their career. 

Quarterback Gionni Williams, offensive lineman Ced Nicely, punter/backup quarterback Tristan Lyon and defensive lineman Ignacio Olvera have all been starting for three years now at Gainesville. 

Also, senior Lenny Chatman has started on both sides of the ball for three seasons. 

“We have 14 players who are three-year starters,” Webb said. “They’re a group who are really special for me.”

Webb said that Reeves will be able to come on the field to be recognized, wearing his jersey, but will off the field following the kickoff to avoid any chance of being injured or coming in to contact with anyone who is a coronavirus carrier. 

His witty defensive end made his first appearance back on campus before practice Monday. Webb said he was speaking with Reeves prior to players arriving for practice. Players were pleasantly surprised to see their friend in the room for the first time since his injury, which created a spark for the entire team, Webb said. 

Gainesville’s coach described it as a ‘movie montage’ moment when players got to exchange in-person pleasantries in the alumni gym with Reeves, which is where players get into football gear before practice.  

Having Reeves back on campus to support his friends was huge for morale, Webb said, after players sulked all weekend about the 29-22 loss to Flowery Branch. 

“We’ll see how the movie plays out as the rest of the season plays out,” Webb said.

Senior offensive lineman Dorean Whitehead is also a three-year starter for the Red Elephants. He’s out of action, too, after a broken leg against Flowery Branch. 

To mark the Senior Night occasion, Bobby Gruhn Field is in pristine condition, thanks to the meticulous work of David Presnell, the athletic fields and grounds coordinator for the Gainesville City Schools. 

“David’s done a remarkable job with the field,” Webb said. “It’s like a putting green.”

Friday’s games

Gainesville vs. Discovery

Chestatee at West Hall

Johnson at East Hall

Cherokee Bluff at Georgia Military College

Lakeview Academy vs. Walker

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