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Spring football about building for the future
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Spring football is analyzed through essentially the same lens in the eyes of local high school coaches.

They all have the same kind of goals they want to accomplish and check off the list before even thinking about playing someone with a different color jersey.

Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell looked at Friday’s intrasquad spring game as not much more than practice session No. 10, with the exception that it was under game-like situations and filmed for further dissection by coaches.

For Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw, spring football is an introspective look at his own squad as he analyzes the pieces in place before summer practice begins.

North Hall coach Bob Christmas is simply looking to see if the players have the passion to play the game: The X’s and O’s will be more completely instilled once they get into summer.

Of course, Gainesville coach Bruce Miller has the most desirable role during the practice sessions of spring, that of looking to see which players want to step up for the Red Elephants, who played for the Class AAA state title last season.

“When you have nine days to practice and a scrimmage, there’s not a lot you can put in with the plays,” Christmas said. “But you can work on improving the other things if you see that the kids are flying around, hitting each other and are building good team chemistry.”

Never has a local spring football season been the ushering in of so much change with the region alignments that teams will play under in the fall.

Consider that Riverside Military is dropping to Class A, East Hall and Jackson County are moving down to Class AA and Flowery Branch is making the jump to Class AAAA next season, and will play in the same subregion of Region 8-AAAA with 2009 state runner-up Clarke Central.

As if that isn’t enough, the Hall County teams that previously played in Region 7-AAA will shift over to Region 8-AAA, and play with the likes of Franklin County, Stephens County, Oconee County and Monroe Area.

“With so many unknowns on the schedule for next season, it makes you get back to the fundamentals and focus primarily on yourself during the spring,” Shaw said. “I think that playing in Region 7-AAA and in Hall County against such good competition has sharpened our program.”

Even though spring is essentially for developing team depth, North Hall already endured a key injury with junior running back Imani Cross going down two weeks ago with a torn Achilles tendon. The injury was suffered during stretching drills.

An MRI revealed that he needed surgery, which Cross had last week and could possibly return healthy enough to take the field by September, said Christmas.

Cross moved to North Hall from Flowery Branch, where he rushed for 1,407 yards in 2009.

North Hall’s coach said that running back happens to be one of the team strengths right now with Trevor Holbrooks, Shane Doster, Mack VanGorder, Clay Quinn, Randy Olson and Amin Aziz all capable of playing, with or without Cross, in Week 1.

“Hopefully by midseason, Imani will be back to full speed,” Christmas said. “I’m very impressed with him.

“He has a great attitude and I was excited to see him go this spring, but it is what it is.”

At Flowery Branch, Shaw is in the process of building a depth chart, which doesn’t have one of his sons in the lineup for the first time since 2003.

Connor Shaw, the Falcons’ quarterback on back-to-back state final four teams, is now the backup QB at the University of South Carolina, which makes room for Austin Brown (6-1, 195) to become the leader of the Falcons spread-option offense.

Brown, a senior, moved to Flowery Branch from Habersham Central. Logan Conley has also impressed Flowery Branch’s coach at quarterback.

To complement Brown, Shaw is looking at senior Matt Tiller, and juniors Jay Rouse, Casey Osborn and Byron Keith as the top targets, right now, at wide receiver.

On defense, Shaw says that 10 of his top 11 are either freshmen, sophomores or juniors, but adds that the unit is further along than this point last season.

“We lost a lot of good players, but we feel good about the talent that we have,” said Shaw, who added the Falcons made it through the spring with about 125 players.

Meanwhile, Gainesville’s coach feels like he’s going to have plenty of athletes to choose from to fill key positions. Even with quarterback Blake Sims moving on to the University of Alabama, the Red Elephants will have Michael Norman, Stephen Mason and promising freshman Deshaun Watson to choose from at the quarterback position.

“All three of those guys are heady and very knowledgeable,” Miller said. “They know the system.”

At running back, Gainesville is looking at another group of three primary leaders with returners Devon Pierce and Markece Robertson and the addition of senior Mantevious Rucker to the team. Rucker moved to Gainesville from Johnson.

On defense, the Red Elephants’ have shifted senior Kevin Hall to linebacker, to join fellow senior A.J. Johnson. Thomas Niles will be the top returner on the defensive line in 2010.

“The thing we want to do in the spring is to add some depth and get our players in the right position,” Miller said. “I feel like we’ve had a great spring and accomplished what we wanted to do.”

Flowery Branch and Gainesville will both play their spring games on Monday night.

As for Chestatee, Luttrell was looking forward to Friday’s spring game and zooming in to examine the intangibles that his players brought to the field.

“The biggest thing is that we’ll have a lot of young players getting ready to play for the first time on a Friday night,” Luttrell said. “I’m excited to see how they handle it.”

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