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High School Football: Points of emphasis vary across the county as summer reaches the midway point
Dawson County's Coey Watson reaches out for the goal line as West Hall's Tyquan Statham closes in during the first half of the Sept. 25 game at Spartan Field. Watson's touchdown was the first of the game for the Tigers.

The official first day of summer solstice was June 20. For high school football coaches and players in Hall County, the summer began May 26.

Now, as the temperatures settle into the 90s, things are really heating up as players fight for positions, while trying to gel with their teammates. Coaches are trying to implement new systems and keep tabs on who is working toward earning a starting spot this fall. Everybody is looking to eliminate last year’s mistakes and work toward a better product.

Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said his Falcons are looking to clean up all the little things that cost them a playoff spot a season ago.

“There were just a few things here or there and our season (would’ve been) completely different,” Griffin said. “We’ve got to learn to finish a game and not blow opportunities to put ourselves in the position to win.”

Griffin said his squad is focusing on the process of doing the little things the right way to become a complete team.

Quarterback battles are a common theme this summer for programs in the area, including Flowery Branch, Gainesville and West Hall.

Gainesville is looking at Isaac Teasley, last year’s backup for Messiah Dorsey, and Central Gwinnett High move-in D.J. Irons.

For West Hall, two familiar faces are looking to get under center for the Spartans.

Jacob Satterfield took the first snap for West Hall last season and then was injured late in the season. From there, Cameron Shirley stepped in as the Spartans were in a tight spot - win or miss the playoffs - and he didn’t disappoint.

As the summer has progressed, Spartans coach Tony Lotti said both have been competing well and there are two other young guys in the mix for the spot as well.

“(Satterfield and Shirley) are both pushing each other, which is what I wanted,” Lotti said. “They’re both great kids and very intelligent. I’m looking to maximize them and put them in situations where they and we can be successful.”

As for where the two are at now, there doesn’t seem to be a frontrunner for the Spartans. Regardless of who will take the snaps, they’ll both be on the field in some capacity.

“I’m letting things unfold as they unfold,” Lotti said. “We have four very good athletes at the quarterback spot. Whoever ends up in the quarterback role, the other will be on the field somewhere. We’ve been looking at that because of how dependable those kids are and the type of athletes they are.”

Though he has a quarterback battle on his hands, Griffin said his duel won’t “make or break our team,” but there still isn’t a starter at this point.

For Griffin, the biggest story with his crew comes down to his offensive line, of which he graduated every member with the class of 2016.

“We’ve got a few guys with some experience,” Griffin said. “No matter how good we practice or prepare them, getting them out on Friday nights and getting plays under their belts will be critical. We’ve got guys who were the next-guy-in and defensive linemen who have some experience on the offensive line.

“It’s tough. A lot of teams are replacing two, three or four. We’re replacing all of ours.”

As the season begins, the Falcons have enough players that there won’t be a single player who will have to start both ways, according to Griffin.

“Thankfully, we have enough where we can start 11 different guys (on each side),” Griffin said. “We don’t have anybody who is going to have to play every play on both sides, but everybody will have to contribute on both sides. As long as we don’t have people get hurt, we’re in pretty good shape.”

The latest trend in high school football are 7-on-7s, which pit a combination of seven offensive players — usually quarterback, receivers and a running back (or two) — against a combination of seven defensive players. The draw being to get timing down between quarterback and receivers, as well as working on defensive alignments and timing for linebackers and defensive backs.

Griffin is a big believer in 7-on-7 competitions, mainly for his defense.

“Any time you can line up and compete in some form or fashion against another team, you can learn something from that. It’s hard to replicate the multiple different offenses you’ll see in a 7-on-7.”

As for Lotti, he’s not as big on 7-on-7s. Lotti sets up joint workout sessions with other schools.

“The competition side of it has a lot of benefits, but I take (7-on-7s) and put them in more of a structured, practice-type environment,” Lotti said. “It’s like anything, you see some things you like and some things you need to work on. It’s a way to see our kids going through real-game situations.”

Both Flowery Branch and West Hall are getting ready for new regions with some big players moving in.

Flowery Branch will have Buford, last season’s Class AAAA runner-up, coming in. The Spartans will have Blessed Trinity, Class AAA runner-up last year, and Marist, a Class AAAA quarterfinalist in 2015, moving in.

Griffin said the coaching staff hasn’t talked to the team about playing Buford since they’re focused on the first games of the season, but they have made mention to them some in practice.

“We mention it from time to time maybe at practice about making a mistake and saying, ‘You can’t beat Buford playing that way,’” Griffin said.

Lotti said his staff and team aren’t focused on the two big opponents quite yet because they’re so late on the schedule.
In preparation for them, Lotti has stacked his non-region schedule.

The Spartans will play Gainesville, Johnson, Washington-Wilkes, Jackson County, Dawson County and Rabun County in non-region competition.

“Our focus right now is getting ready for that first game,” Lotti said. “Our non-region games right now are to get us ready for that region schedule. Our kids are ready for new opportunities. There are some new faces on there for even me, so it’ll be a new type of experience.”

Despite the progress his team has made over the summer to this point, Lotti quoted the famous line from the movie Smokey and the Bandit as to what his team needs to do in the just over a month’s time that’s left before game day: “We’ve got a long ways to go and a short time to get there.”