2012 was a banner year for Gainesville High School athletics. The golf teams swept the state titles in May, both soccer teams and the baseball team advanced to at least the state semifinals, and just before the calendar turned over, the Red Elephants brought home the first football state championship in school history.
And with tonight’s BCS National Championship game, 2013 promises to get off to a memorable start for a pair of the school’s graduates.
Blake Sims and Tai-ler (TJ) Jones, who were one tipped pass away from winning the Class AAA state championship for Gainesville a little over three years ago, will be on opposite sidelines tonight, suiting up for Alabama and Notre Dame, respectively. For two years at Gainesville, they formed one of the most dynamic offensive duos in Georgia.
With Sims at quarterback and Jones as his go-to receiver, the Red Elephants won 26 games and lost only two in 2008 and ’09.
In their senior season, they led Gainesville to the state title game and were just 3 yards from a state championship. But Sims’ two-point conversion pass — intended for Jones — was batted down with no time remaining, giving Peach County a 13-12 win. When Gainesville finally brought home the championship last month, both alums took to Twitter to broadcast their congratulations.
Since graduating in May 2010, both have settled in with their respective college teams.
After redshirting his first year on campus and seeing limited action as a reserve running back last fall, Sims has found a home at quarterback behind starter A.J. McCarron. This year, as a redshirt sophomore, Sims has rushed 30 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns and completed 5 of 10 passes for 77 yards.
Jones has been a contributor for the Fighting Irish since arriving on campus, even as he has overcome personal tragedy. Andre Jones, TJ’s father and a linebacker for Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team, died in June 2011 of a brain aneurysm.
This week, TJ told ESPN.com it’s taken him a long time to learn to deal with his father’s death while following in his footsteps.
“Every time we brought up Notre Dame, it brought back thoughts of my dad,” he said.
“Being there definitely didn’t speed up the healing process. With time, I’ve been able to deal with it and cope with it.”
On the field, Jones’ production has improved each year. Now a junior, he’s the team’s leader at wide receiver with 43 receptions for 559 yards and four touchdowns.
HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING: Five area teams are headed to Macon this weekend for the state duals tournament after claiming top spots in area tournaments.
Flowery Branch (8-AAAAA), Chestatee (8-AAAA), Banks County (4-AAA) and Jefferson (4-AA) each brought home area championships, while Lumpkin County took second in 8-AAAA.
The wrestling begins Thursday night in classes AAAA-AAAAA and will pick up Friday morning for Class A and AA. Finals in all classifications are set to begin at 3 p.m. Saturday.