With just more than two months remaining until the first official kickoff of the 2016 football season, all nine Hall County teams are prepping for new regions, new opponents and new challenges.
The Times looks at some of the most interesting questions facing each team around the county heading into this fall, and what several of the coaches are hoping to do to answer them.
GAINESVILLE: Who will prevail in the latest quarterback battle?
Mikey Gonzalez and Messiah Dorsey both had their turns under center for a season. The next Gainesville High quarterback might be able to take over the starting spot for a little longer.
As of Thursday, there are two viable candidates to win the job as the Red Elephants’ next quarterback.
Isaac Teasley and Central Gwinnett move-in D.J. Irons are both expected to compete for the job throughout the summer before Gainesville coach Bruce Miller makes his decision.
Teasley made brief appearances in relief for Dorsey during Gainesville’s occasional blowout wins, while the junior Irons (6-4, 180) played one game for the Black Knights, according to the team’s Maxpreps statistics.
Both players are described as dual-threat passers, who can run to escape pressure in the pocket if needed. Teasley and Irons both have experience playing for their respective varsity basketball teams.
Gonzalez became Gainesville’s first quarterback to follow in Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson’s footsteps, while Dorsey helped lead his team to a second-round playoff berth in last year’s Class AAAAA state playoffs.
EAST HALL: How good can the connection between quarterback Austin Parker and wide receiver Markese Jackson get in their second full season together?
Both skill players have dreams of realizing their worth at the college level, and they’re taking steps to make that a reality, according to East Hall coach Bryan Gray.
Austin Parker and Markese Jackson are two of several Vikings who have gotten together throughout the spring to polish their skills ahead of a long stretch of summer workouts.
“We’ve had great leadership in the last six or seven months, dating back to January,” said Gray. “They’ve been doing a lot of stuff outside of what we normally do. They want to take their games to the next level.”
Parker threw for 2,267 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first full year as the East Hall starting QB, while Jackson snagged 10 touchdown passes while racking up 1,057 yards in his junior year.
Over the rest of the offseason, Gray said he’ll be looking for Parker to work on his accuracy, while Jackson tightens up his route-running. Thanks to a strong offense and some resilience, the Vikings secured a No. 2 seed out of Region 7-AAA in 2015, and earned a home playoff game for the first time in more than 15 years.
“You can never master the fundamentals enough in the passing game,” said Gray. “Any routes can always be better cuts, balls can be placed in better places. They’ve built a great connection, so that they begin to know where they’re going to be when things break down.”
CHESTATEE: Can fledgling quarterback Storm Yarbrough win the starting job?
Shaun Conley is committed to enacting physical change in his first year as War Eagles football coach – and he’s hoping that success will come at the end of the road.
Conley will be adapting his offense into a spread formation in order to air the ball out more often, which should give returning quarterback Storm Yarbrough some room to operate.
Yarbrough is a sprightly rising junior who did well to steer the ship after then-starter Logan Cates suffered a fractured collarbone early in the 2015 season. Yarbrough is the lone returner with quarterback experience, according to Conley.
The first-year coach said Yarbrough and senior running back/safety Baylee Camp both had strong spring scrimmages.
“As a returning starter, he certainly factors into the equation,” said Conley. “We’re still evaluating, as far as position goes, but he’ll be a big factor in our plans.”
NORTH HALL: How quickly can senior tailback Kyle Bacus get back to action?
As talented as he is humble, Bacus will likely shoulder most of the burden for North Hall’s rushing attack – once he’s finished rehabbing from a recent arm surgery.
The rising senior underwent shoulder surgery in his labrum last week, according to Trojans coach David Bishop. The team is hoping for Bacus to be fully ready by the team’s first game of the season, but Bishop indicated that Bacus will do whatever is necessary to get back on the field as quickly as possible.
“He’s going to do everything that the doctors tell him to do,” said Bishop. “He wants to be out there really badly.”
Bacus (826 rushing yards, seven touchdowns in 2015) has been held out of most contact drills during the spring, according to Bishop, in order to let him recuperate. The Trojans averaged 195.5 yards per game with Bacus and teammates Maddox Turner and Colby Miller in the mix.
North Hall picked up a playoff spot in 2015 by securing the No. 3 seed in Region 8-AAAA behind Stephens County and eventual Class AAAA finalist Buford.
Bishop said he was happy to see how his team has improved on its overall speed in a recent spring scrimmage, and said he was looking forward to implementing a spread version of the typical Wing-T that North Hall employs.
WEST HALL: Who will the Spartans turn to after graduating three Division-I talents?
The losses of University of Cincinnati signee Tyquan Statham, future Wisconsin punter Anthony Lotti and future Georgia State safety Kwon Williams will leave three wide holes in West Hall’s starting lineup.
West Hall coach Tony Lotti can rely on a corps of committed seniors to produce in a few spots of need in the secondary and the backfield.
AJ and Ashun Favorite have proven themselves to be threats at either free safety or wide receiver.
Meanwhile, Jacob Satterfield and Cameron Shirley are going to battle for the starting quarterback spot. Shirley stepped in to lead the Spartans for five games after Satterfield went down with an injury.
The Spartans coach said he’ll hope to keep both players on the field, even if one of them doesn’t get to play under center.
“They all know how I am,” said Lotti. “The ones that work their tails off, they’ll play. Whoever wins the battle, I plan on the other one in that mix to play another position. They’re really good football players, too, we’ll need them on the field.”
Tyrese Osborne is the team’s leading returning rusher, and should get the bulk of the carries. Lotti is tapping rising junior Josh Taylor to be the leader in a cohesive offensive line that’s had a year to gel together.
Israel Lopez will likely split time at kicker and punter.
West Hall will be joining one of the more top-heavy local regions created by the most recent reclassification. The Spartans will compete against Blessed Trinity and Marist, along with local rivals Chestatee and White County.
Blessed Trinity was the finalist in last season’s Class AAA state title game, while Marist fell in last year’s state quarterfinals. It took a valiant effort for the Spartans to reach last year’s playoff, including a 3-game win streak to end the regular season.
JOHNSON: Will Sam Corbett’s sophomore season be a baptism by fire?
How important is Sam Corbett to Johnson’s offense? The sophomore quarterback enters his second year under center as both the Knights’ leading passer (214 yards, 2 TDs) and their leading rusher (41 carries, 239 yards).
However, the Knights will open their 2016 Region 8-AAAAA schedule against imposing opponents such as Flowery Branch, Buford and Loganville, all of whom either made the playoffs in 2015 or came up just shy of making the field.
Corbett has sneaky athleticism, and Johnson coach Jason Roquemore will be hoping to build an offensive line around the sophomore to keep him upright for as long as possible.
LAKEVIEW ACADEMY: How can the defense help keep it in games?
When Lakeview suffered losses last year, they tended to sting. The Lions gave up at least 38 points five times in 2015.
The Lions ended the season on a six-game skid to finish just behind winless Providence Christian in Region 8-A.
It’ll be important for Lakeview to work on shoring up leads and not allowing opponents to come back for wins. The Lions gave up a 21-10 halftime lead to fall 25-21 to Towns County last season.
FLOWERY BRANCH: How can the Falcons get over the playoff hump?
Flowery Branch came so close, but oh-so-far from clinching a playoff spot in its biggest games of 2015.
The Falcons fell to three of the top four region seeds in 8-AAAAA by a touchdown or less, including a 3-0 defensive struggle against region champion Lanier and a last-second heartbreaker against county rival Gainesville.
And now, Chris Griffin’s squad will have to face last year’s Class AAAA state finalist Buford as a region rival, along with traditional rivals Loganville, Clarke Central, Cedar Shoals and Loganville. Flowery Branch is hoping to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2013.
RIVERSIDE MILITARY ACADEMY: Who are these new guys?
Aside from two meetings against crosstown rivals Lakeview Academy, Riverside Military Academy will be playing a completely different set of opponents than it usually faces. The Eagles were moved from Class AA to Class A in the most recent reclassification, and should be expected to make waves in the state’s smallest classification.
Riverside Military greets last year’s region champions and state semifinalists Prince Avenue Christian in this year’s opening regular-season home game.
Riverside will face off against Lakeview Academy in an Aug. 19 scrimmage and a Nov. 14 road game.