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Spring football wrap-up: Where every Hall County team stands heading into the summer
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Flowery Branch's Elijah Gainey passes the ball during a game against Blessed Trinity at Flowery Branch High School on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Are you ready for some football?

The high school spring season is now in the books, and with only three months between now and opening day, coaches around the area are starting to get an idea of how the coming season will go. 

Here’s a quick look at where each Hall County team stands going into the summer:

Cherokee Bluff

A year can make a world of difference. And according to Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones, that has been the case for a Bears team about to embark on the second season in program history.

Following up an 0-10 season, Cherokee Bluff loses senior quarterback Connor Boyd, but as a whole, the club will be much more experienced in 2019. The team graduates just three seniors, but projects to hold over 30 upperclassmen in the coming season between 11th graders and 12th graders returning to the team.

Jones believes a full year of developing and learning for a group that will be largely unchanged has done wonders.

“We thought spring practice went extremely well,” he said. “Just one of the most satisfying things of my coaching career is just to be able to watch our kids grow and develop and improve on a daily basis, and that’s what we were able to see in spring.”

Rising junior Mason Thomas is the frontrunner to replace Boyd come fall, but Jones said the bigger area of emphasis this offseason has been improving the team’s offensive and defensive lines. 

Led by seniors Cade Hulsey and Daniel Bescher, Jones said the offensive front will be bigger and stronger at virtually every position this season compared to last year’s unit.

Senior Bosco Norman — who started at point guard for the Bears basketball team — will bring some much needed speed and explosiveness to Cherokee Bluff’s wide receiver corps as the Bears hope to improve on last season’s 10.8 points per game average.

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Chestatee's Christian Charles holds off East Hall's Dj Gray during a game between Chestatee and East Hall at War Eagle Stadium on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele
Chestatee

The first wave of Shaun Conley’s homegrown football players are entering their senior year as the largest senior class in Conley’s four years at Chestatee. Conley believes the leadership within the group is stronger than ever, saying “they don’t know any other way.”

Christian Charles returns at quarterback as a mobile force. Conley moved the spring scrimmage to the fall, making the fundamentals the main priority. 

Seth Presley will also return after receiving for over 1,000 yards last year. 

For the defense, last year’s squad struggled a bit to prevent incessant offensive surges from opponents. Conley believes experience is what his team lacked, as well as getting used to a new defensive coordinator. Several defensive players are returning, so the scheme should be more familiar to the War Eagles. Conley believes their growth was evident in spring, noting they are growing and getting faster and stronger.

East Hall

East Hall did not have a conventional spring season, but that doesn’t mean newly appointed head coach Michael Perry is lacking for optimism. 

Several of Perry’s future assistants have yet to arrive at the school, so the Vikings have focused mainly on conditioning and picking up a brand new offensive and defensive playbook, and as a whole, Perry said the process has gone smoothly. To supplement the lack of spring scrimmage, East Hall will play two preseason fall scrimmages.

In the interim, Perry has been preparing the team for completely revamped offensive and defensive schemes. Perry added that quarterbacks in his offense have a multitude of responsibilities, and for the moment, Clete Cooper and Luke England are the frontrunners to take over the position. 

With a lack of opportunity to see the team in action, Perry has focused on establishing a championship culture within the program, emphasizing the importance of turning East Hall into a winner as quickly as possible. 

Flowery Branch 

The prospects of this upcoming season excite the Falcons, who share Region 7-4A with several of Georgia’s best high school football teams. 

“They know we had a solid year last year (8-3, 4-2 Region 7-4A) and suffered some setbacks later in the year with injuries,” coach Ben Hall said. “But we generated momentum, and the kids feel that. It carried over into the offseason and allowed us to have a solid offseason and spring practice.”

Overall, the Falcons completed nine “productive” spring practices. Hall does not believe in scrimmaging in the spring at the risk of losing someone to injury, so they are set to scrimmage Dacula in the fall.

Every position, according to Hall, is open for new applicants, but the quarterback and running back positions are the least likely to change, barring injury.

Quarterback Elijah Gainey enters his senior season with three Division I offers (Georgia Tech, University of South Carolina, University of South Alabama) and looks to further his recruiting status. 

Running back Jaizen Ellingham is set to return as a starter for his junior season. Chandler White, a newcomer who moved to Flowery Branch for his senior season, is expected to see a lot of game time along with Ellingham, while Chase Watson will also add much needed depth to the position.

The position with the greatest competition is wide receiver. The Falcons lost two or three seniors last season, and seven or eight kids are currently vying for spots.

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Gainesville's Gionni Williams searches for an open receiver during a game against Winder-Barrow at City Park Stadium on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele
Gainesville

After a rocky start to his tenure with Gainesville last spring, Red Elephants coach Heath Webb had one word for this year’s offseason: smooth.

Gainesville only had three coaches on campus during the spring last year, compared to a complete unit this time around. With 16 of 22 starters returning to the team, familiarity with Webb’s scheme and playbook has not been an issue. 

The Red Elephants lose their offensive MVP from a season ago in Quintavious Hayes, but Webb hopes to replace his production with a committee of players. At quarterback, incumbent starter Gionni Williams is likely to reprise the role. Last season’s opening night starter Walt Dixon has emerged as perhaps Williams’ most potent weapon in the receiving game after catching a pair of touchdowns in the Red Elephants’ spring game against Stephens County. 

The team returns all but one starter on an already solid offensive line. Outside of newcoming linebacker Yousef Ali, who Webb called “probably our best football player this spring” the Gainesville defensive unit is primarily comprised of familiar faces.

At this point, Webb said he sees sustained health and an extremely difficult schedule as the biggest obstacles between the Red Elephants and a successful season come fall.

“The schedule is brutal, but I think we’re a much better football team,” he said. “Hopefully that shows up in the wins column.”

Johnson

Stan Luttrell enters his inaugural season as the head coach of Johnson football ready for everything that comes with it.

The former Johnson player and assistant coach under Blair Armstrong (former Knight head coach) believes he has a good idea of where his team is coming out of spring practice, just a few months after accepting the job. 

“I was able to start building relationships with the players and coaches early and be here for spring practice to see who the players and coaches are,” Luttrell said. “And how I can make adjustments.”

Luttrell sees a spark in rising junior quarterback Justin Long. He’s been a backup, but the numbers he’s put up in the weight room are some of the best in the program, Luttrell said. 

“He’s a guy that when he speaks, people listen,” he said. “He leads by example. It’s been a real pleasant surprise to know there’s a guy like that on the team. He did an excellent job throughout the spring, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow.”

If Long earns the starting spot, he will run an option offense. 

The Knights, however. will employ a more flexible approach on defense. 

“Defensively, we are going to be multiple: We’re going to do what gives us the best chance to win as far as what we have to stop by the opposing offense,” Luttrell said. “We’re going to be aggressive and have a physical style of play on both side of the ball.”

Lakeview Academy

Matthew Gruhn set a goal for his Lions this spring that they’ve never reached before — a spring football scrimmage. The scrimmage against Lanier Christian was a big step for the program, who’s small population makes even matchups hard to come by. 

Both teams agreed on a 10-play format instead of a true game design. 

“I thought it was very beneficial to go against somebody else and to get our guys a good taste of what it’s like, especially those who have not been a part of our program before,” Gruhn said. “It gives us momentum and some answers to some questions we might not have been able to answer before going into summer. That was probably the biggest component of our spring.”

Questions continue to hover around the program, but the scrimmage helped to further identify the depth question and highlight players who have the best potential to secure spots.

Gruhn refrained from pinpointing specific athletes undergoing position battles. Most decisions will be made by the fall, he clarified. 

In the past, the Lions offense has been more pass-oriented, but Gruhn wants to give the run-oriented approach a trial run this upcoming season. 

“We’ll try to do the triple option a little bit from shotgun, not from under center,” he said. “That might have a different feel to it. We’ll see how that goes.”

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North Hall's JT Fair holds off Cedar Grove's Montre Montfort at Buck Godfrey Stadium in Panthersville on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele
North Hall

Last season, North Hall relied on explosive outside running plays thanks largely to the contributions of reigning Region 7-3A player of the year Daniel Jackson. Jackson is now gone, as is last season’s starting quarterback David Seavey. Still, Trojans coach David Bishop said the identity of the team’s offense is unlikely to change, and it all goes back to the offensive line.

With three of five starters returning up front, Bishop believes the North Hall run game will be as potent as it was last year when the Trojans scored more than 30 points in eight of 12 games played. 

“That’s kind of the premise,” Bishop said. “Offensive line, take care of business, and we’re going to move the ball.”

Rising senior Trey Sanders is poised to take over Seavey’s position, and will hope to keep the North Hall offense running smoothly. 

On the other side of the ball, the Trojans return every member of a defensive front that dominated at times last season, holding more than half of their opponents to 7 or fewer points. 

North Hall’s wealth of experience has Bishop comfortable with where the squad stands going into summer.

Riverside Military Academy

Coming off a 6-6 season and its first playoff win since joining the GHSA, Riverside Military Academy is ready to build on the winning tradition that head coach Nick Garrett sought to establish when he arrived at the school in 2017. 

This year’s edition of the Eagles will feature a brand new look at a few key positions, notably at quarterback where the graduation of Isaac Teasley leaves a hole that will be difficult to fill. Going into the summer, Garrett said rising junior Shad Dabney — a rare junior captain — will likely take over as signal caller, with Jermaine Harris right behind him on the depth chart. 

“We’re excited about (Dabney) and what he brings to the table, not only as an athlete but as a leader and in the classroom,” Garrett said. “He’s a well-rounded young man.” 

Defensively, the Eagles are switching from a 4-5-2 to a 3-3 stack base, which means everyone on that side of the ball will have new gap assignments and alignments to get familiar with, according to Garrett.

While learning and adapting to the new scheme will be a challenge for the group, Garrett said the team’s overall success will be largely based on the latest class’s ability to pick up the leadership roles vacated by graduating seniors, a task that he believes captains Dabney, Nick Haley, Sean Whitley and Lamar Gordon should be able to accomplish.

West Hall

Victories in spring scrimmages don’t always equate to a successful spring, nor does a loss liken to a failed spring. 

West Hall fell to North Hall during its spring scrimmage, but the progress made in the practices has coach Krofton Montgomery excited for the future.

“The game in the beginning was competitive,” Montgomery said. “(North Hall) pulled away. Something that I kind of saw coming. 

“It being the spring scrimmage, we weren’t focused on implementing offensive wrinkles or new defensive stuff. We were working on the fundamentals.”

Montgomery says he feels good about the group, especially with Clayton Jenkins at quarterback. The rising junior has grown two inches (6 feet, 4.5 inches) since the fall and looks to get stronger over the summer in order to drive the ball better. 

“He is extremely accurate,” Montgomery said. “I would expect him to have a very big season. He fits what we want offensively.”

Montgomery laid out a three year plan once he accepted the head coaching job one year ago. He says he is on track entering year two, noticing strides in athletic training and in the coaching staff.

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