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Scrimmages provide final answers for area teams
North Hall linemen practice Wednesday afternoon at the school's practice field as the Trojans prepare for the upcoming 2010 football season.

Months of offseason training have answered plenty of questions for the area high school football teams, but there are still concerns as each squad nears the start of the season.

The culmination for most teams are scrimmages, which start Friday and feature some local teams like the Class AAA runner-up Gainesville, Chestatee, East Hall, Johnson, Lakeview Academy and Riverside Military Academy.

The other schools — Flowery Branch, North Hall and West Hall — will scrimmage next week with the same goals as the others: to evaluate, gain experience, and finally hit someone else.

The following is a brief look at what’s going on with each of Hall County the high schools within Hall County and what each expect to gain from the scrimmages.

CHESTATEE: The biggest adjustment head coach Stan Luttrell has made does not have to deal with the roster; it has to deal with the heat.

The War Eagles are now practicing in the morning before school and watching film after school to avoid playing in near 100-degree temperatures.

Chestatee will have to deal with the heat Friday when it plays host to East Hall for a scrimmage that Luttrell hopes will have a regular season atmosphere.

“We got a lot of young guys and older guys with little Friday night experience,” he said. “We still have some time before our season starts, so this won’t be a final evaluation period.”

EAST HALL: The Vikings take to the field for the first time Friday against Chestatee. Head coach Bryan Gray is anxious to see how some position battles play out.

“We have nine offensive linemen fighting for positions,” Gray said. “I want to see everybody and get everybody on tape.”

One player who he doesn’t need to see is Chris Johnson, a wide receiver and cornerback who has made “real good strides” since the spring.

Johnson is one of a “couple” of surprises Gray has witnessed during the offseason, but those positives don’t distract him from the one negative surrounding his squad.

“Our main thing is how can we improve mentally,” he said.

FLOWERY BRANCH: The biggest question surrounding the Falcons is at the quarterback position. Last year’s standout, Connor Shaw, is now a backup for the University of South Carolina. While his shoes will be hard to fill, his former coach and father Lee Shaw is confident the new signal callers can get the job done.

“I’m blessed to have two quarterbacks,” said Shaw, referring to senior Austin Brown and junior Logan Conley. “Austin’s committed to Western Carolina and Conley is a guy like Connor, who played receiver last year, but can step in at quarterback.”

Shaw said his team is not as athletic as in the past, but they are a great group to coach and have done everything the right way throughout the offseason. Now it’s time to see how they react against the opposition.

“We can’t find things out in practice, we have to find out in the fire,” said Shaw, whose team will visit South Forsyth for a scrimmage at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20. “It’s time to start playing, get into the season and get into the hunt.”

GAINESVILLE: Less than a year removed from playing in the Class AAA state title game, the Red Elephants enter this season with a wealth of talent and questions. They lost nine starters, including QB Blake Sims and WR Tai-ler Jones, on offense. They also lost seven on defense, including three-fourths of what head coach Bruce Miller called “the best group of linebackers” he’s ever coached.

Friday night against St. Pius X, Miller hopes to get the answers.

“There’s a lot of questions, but there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” Miller said. “We just have to put them together in the right position.”

The main puzzle piece is at quarterback, where junior Stephen Mason and freshman Deshaun Watson are battling for the starting role. Miller said the position is “still up in the air” and that both will see extensive playing time in the scrimmage.
Friday’s scrimmage also provides Miller a chance to look at the Golden Lions, a perennial playoff team.

“We look at it as a learning set,” he said. “We get to learn about them and it’s a chance to evaluate us.”

JOHNSON: A few positions are still up for grabs with the Knights, specifically at running back and linebacker. Coach Paul Friel said he has two players battling it out at each position, and they are so equal, they might rotate who starts which game.

“I’m anxious to see how they look,” Friel said in reference to his scrimmage Friday against East Jackson in Oakwood. “We have a good bunch of hard-working kids who are playing well as a team.”

Those kids are also young, and Friel wants to use Friday as a way to predict how they handle the regular season.
“I want to see how the young guys handle game situations,” he said.

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY: The biggest change at Lakeview this year is the lack of a region schedule. Coach Matthew Gruhn said some of the players were disappointed, but as a whole, the group is handling it well.

The Lions scrimmage Pinecrest at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and Gruhn is interested in see how well his team plays after just 2 1/2 weeks of practice.

“It’s the first time for a lot of these guys under the lights,” he said. “It’s a big test to see what they got.”

Lakeview only has 24 players on its roster, which means nearly every player could see the field.

NORTH HALL: When Imani Cross went down with an injury in the spring, most grew concerned at how the Trojans will play without him. Coach Bob Christmas has no worries.

Cross’ absence provided ample playing time for Amin Aziz and Clay Quinn, who could begin the season rotating at running back if Cross isn’t cleared to play.

“We don’t want to put him out until he’s ready,” Christmas said of Cross, who may be cleared by a doctor as early as Tuesday. “But we have two pretty good backs if he can’t go. Running backs are a strength of ours.”

Surprising to most, including Christmas, they also are deep at receiver with CJ Curry, Darius Curry and Jesse Strickland.

North Hall scrimmages Forsyth Central at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 in Cumming.

“We still are having battles up front,” Christmas said. “We’re going to play a lot of kids and see how they react in game situations.”

RIVERSIDE MILITARY: With school not starting until Aug. 16, first-year head coach Chris Cotter doesn’t even have his full roster yet. But he’s happy with what he has, including a pair of freshman ready to start the season at quarterback and running back.

Michael Gallup has been named the team’s starting quarterback and Josh Martin the starter at running back, which are two decisions that came with little reservation.

“There’s no excuse for age,” Cotter said. “I’m gonna play the best players.”

The Eagles play host to Hebron Christian at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and Cotter is setting the standard early.

“I’m looking for effort and toughness,” he said. “I expect perfection right out of the gate.”

WEST HALL: Shunquez Stephens threw for almost 3,000 yards last year at quarterback, so why has he been lining up on defense? The answer is simple.

“He said he’ll play any position to get the job done,” coach Mike Newton said. “He’s had a great attitude.”

There’s little doubt Stephens will still play quarterback, but his presence on defense is evidence of the position battles going on at West Hall.

“We still aren’t settled in a lot of positions,” Newton said. “We have kids that look good, but no one has earned a position on offense or defense.”

Newton hopes to settle that on Aug. 19 when the Spartans scrimmage Pickens at 7 p.m. in Oakwood. Newton called the game a “final evaluation period” before the season begins.

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