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Spring Football: Programs in Hall wrap up important practice sessions for new coaches, schools in transition
Gainesville High spring football practice May 11, 2022. - photo by Bill Murphy

It was a particularly active spring football period for high school programs in Hall County. 

Certainly more than usual. 

Three new head coaches and programs in transition means these practices were important in setting the tone for summer workouts and padded sessions, leading up to the 2022 season. 

At Gainesville, it’s entering its first season under the leadership of Josh Niblett, who previously guided his programs to six state championships at Hoover High in Alabama. 

Meanwhile, North Hall is gearing up for its first season with Sean Pender, who comes in from a successful stint at Pierce County. 

Flowery Branch is acclimating to Jason Tester as its new coach, who was promoted from its defensive coordinator, when former coach Ben Hall took the job at Oconee County. 

Lanier Christian Academy also had an active spring practice session, as it gears up to play 11-man football, up from 8-on-8 football, in the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools league in the fall. 

Lightning coach Bruce Miller, who is entering his second season, said he was pleased with spring football as they look to add players to fill out its roster. 

“We had a lot of good things happen during spring football,” said Miller, who previously guided Gainesville High’s program during a long run of accomplished seasons, including the 2012 state championship. “I can really tell that since it’s the second year that things went a little smoother.”

In the fall, Lanier Christian will be paced by small-but-powerful sophomore running back Zeke Clanton, who ran for 1,600 yards last season. 

“He’s got all the tools to be a great running back,” Miller said. 

Miller is also pleased with the progress of freshman quarterback CJ Britt, along with senior DB/WR Camden Hohman.

Here’s a look around the rest of the county: 

GAINESVILLE: The Red Elephants’ spring sessions were busy, to say the least. 

Niblett has said it was a constant flow of Division-I coaches coming in to see the talent at Gainesville. 

Next season, Gainesville appears to be loaded as it makes the move down to Class 6A, after two seasons playing at the state’s highest classification. 

The Red Elephants return plenty of exciting talent, led by senior running back Naim Cheeks, junior quarterback Baxter Wright, junior wide receiver Ellis Pitts and senior linebacker Stacey Hopkins, just to name a few. 

Since January, Gainesville added linebacker Jeremiah Telander, from North Hall, wide receiver Darius Cannon, from White County, senior running back Tre Reece, from Jefferson, and junior tight end Sky Niblett, from Hoover, Ala., to an already-explosive offense.

The Red Elephants wrapped up spring football with their varsity playing the first three quarters, outscoring Class 7A South Gwinnett 20-8 in Snellville. 

In addition to a new head coach, Gainesville has a football coaching staff that is almost entirely new to the school. 

FLOWERY BRANCH: Tester said that this was an especially important spring evaluation period for the Falcons. 

To get a good look at all his players on film, he was mindful to have all his varsity players (who were healthy) get snaps during the spring game against Hebron Christian. 

That included three quarterbacks who are all looking to replace three-year starter David Renard, who graduated this spring.

During the spring game, Flowery Branch’s coach said one of the standouts was junior middle linebacker Cam Haynes, who is a returning starter. 

The Falcons are already set at running back with Myles Ivey and Malik Dryden, both set to return in 2022. 

Also on offense, Flowery Branch will have back junior Seth Larson, a wide receiver, who is a breakaway threat as a kick returner and punt returner. 

In addition, Tester said he took a look at a big class of rising freshman to see who may be ready to contribute on varsity in the fall. 

“We got accomplished what we wanted to accomplish in the spring,” Tester said. “The next phase, for us, is to identify the top 11 players on offense and top 11 on defense.”

WEST HALL: With many athletes still participating in track and field, Spartans coach Krofton Montgomery said he spaced out his 10 sessions to get as many players on the field, as possible. 

Right away, Montgomery said a couple players who are standing out are Bryce Reed and Tito Hernandez, who both play on the offensive line. 

“I was pleased with our spring, overall,” Montgomery said. “We got a lot of things done.”

JOHNSON: Knights coach William Harrell said they didn’t have formal spring practice, but instead opted for voluntary workouts. 

Johnson will, instead, play two preseason games: one Aug. 5 and the second on Aug. 12. 

Harrell said he’s encouraged by the interest in prospective football players at the school, since it announced this spring that it would go to a non-region schedule for at least two years. 

Johnson’s coach said that as many as 50 students came to a meet and greet for families to learn more about playing football. 

In addition to young talent, the Knights’ coach is very big on returning junior Dimitri Moon, a running back and defensive back, and junior offensive lineman Guillermo Rosales. 

“We’re excited,” Harrell said. “We have a lot of kids coming back from last season and a big freshmen class moving up to high school.”

RIVERSIDE MILITARY: Before students went back home for the summer, Eagles coach Nick Garrett said they had strong spring practices, then were competitive against a tough North Cobb Christian in a practice game in Acworth.

Right now, Riverside Military’s coach is impressed with his senior quarterback Jeremiah Shaw, who comes from Meadowcreek High, along with returning running back Rodney Robinson, Jr. 

On the offensive line, the Eagles’ coach believes he has two Division-I prospects in center Zach Miller and left tackle Zichen Zhang, a 6-foot, 6-inch second-year cadet from China. 

Riverside Military’s coach will not have his players back on campus until the end of July, when boarding cadets move back in Gainesville. 

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY: The Lions didn’t have any spring football sessions, their coach Lee Shaw said. This fall, the Lions will be making the transition in sports to the Georgia Independent Schools Association from the Georgia High Schools Association.

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