It’s not yet a full month into the high school football season, and there’s still plenty we don’t know.
How much better will North Hall be when Imani Cross is finally healthy? Can White County finally break through and reach the playoffs? Can anybody tackle A.J. Johnson?
It’s a season of unknowns, which makes the fact that there is no question about Flowery Branch’s legitimacy as a Region 8-AAAA contender all the more astounding.
That is, unless you’re a Falcon.
“It’s not a surprise to us,” running back Jeremy Haley said this week of his team’s 4-0 start, “because we worked hard in the offseason and it’s all coming together for us.”
Indeed. Through four games, the Falcons are scoring nearly 40 points per contest, giving up less than two touchdowns, and they’re among the area’s leaders in both rushing and passing yards.
All this while moving up to Class AAAA and replacing just about every player on offense who touched the ball during meaningful action last season, including one of the state’s best in quarterback Connor Shaw.
So it’s easy to understand why most onlookers took the wait-and-see approach with Flowery Branch heading into the season.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by the immediate success either. Just look at recent history.
Since 2005, the Falcons have had only one season in which they didn’t win at least 10 games — that was 2007, when they won 9. At some point a trend becomes tradition.
And if you saw any of those Flowery Branch teams of the past, you know what to expect from this year’s squad as well, especially on offense: receivers spread from sideline to sideline, dependable run-pass balance, and above all else, crisp, precise execution.
These things have become the hallmarks of a Lee Shaw-coached team, and they’ve remained so, even without one of his sons (Jaybo and Connor) at quarterback, as they had been for the six previous seasons.
Without that star power, Flowery Branch has found plenty of production from a variety of sources.
Quarterback Austin Brown, who transferred in from Habersham Central this season, leads the area with 886 passing yards. Haley is second in the area with a little more than 150 rushing yards per game after spending last season in a reserve role. Wide receivers Casey Osborne and Logan Conley lead the area in receiving yards by a wide margin, while Jacob Allen and Kyle Famiano are the top two in tackles.
“We don’t have as many superstars (as in previous years), so we’re all stepping up,” linebacker Sydney Cheeks said. “We’re playing together, making our assignments and playing hard.”
It’s working well so far. Maybe the biggest reason why is that the Falcons aren’t satisfied with being good. They have bigger plans in mind.
“We’re not letting 4-0 go to our head,” Haley said. “We want to win region.”
That’s no piddling goal in a region that put three teams in the quarterfinals and two in the semifinals last season, including tonight’s opponent, Rockdale County.
Lee Shaw was complimentary of the Bulldogs this week; he’s seen and heard enough about the traditionally tough and unpredictable 8-AAAA to know they’re dangerous.
But he also knows his own team’s potential.
“We’re not even close to what we can be,” he said. “We’ve put up points and had good breaks, but we didn’t play well last week (in a 50-15 win over Cedar Shoals), even though we put points on the board. We’re not even close to what we can do. Our upside is good, but we’ve got to get there.”
When they do, just don’t say you’re surprised.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.