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Trio of new Hall high school football coaches molding programs during spring practice
Gainesville, East Hall, West Hall each transitioning to new regimes
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Gainesville High's JD Brooks charges into the end zone Friday night October 27, 2017 for a touchdown during the first half of the Red Elephants' Region 8 AAAAAA win over Apalachee at City Park Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

For the Gainesville High football team, this spring has been all about getting acclimated to a new way doing things.

First-year coach Heath Webb has spent the allotted practice time molding the program in his image after taking over for Bruce Miller, who had led the Red Elephants since 2002. That means different schemes and routines for Gainesville’s players as they prepare for this season.

“It’s a new offense, a new defense, a new practice schedule, new terminology and new coaches,” Webb said. “There is a lot of newness for the kids to buy into. Sometimes in those situations, it’s difficult for teenagers to jump on board.”

That’s the challenge facing the trio of new coaches at established Hall County schools as they work through their first spring in charge. While Webb is brand new to the Red Elephants program, both West Hall’s Krofton Montgomery and East Hall’s Scott Patrick were assistants to the schools’ former head coaches.

Yet the latter two are settling into their first head-coaching roles, heightening the challenge of spring practice under new leadership.

“As a head coach, you don’t deal as much in the X’s and O’s as much as what’s going on with the organization from fundraising to trainers and doctors all the stuff that goes on on that level,” said Montgomery, who spent the last five years as an offensive assistant for the Spartans. 

“But (former West Hall coach Tony) Lotti allowed me to run the offense, so I was kind of trained to lead that side of the ball. Now I’m just in charge of all of them.”

The objectives for Montgomery and his fellow first-year coaches during spring practice are mostly the same as those for a long-standing head man — evaluating players and drilling fundamentals.

But new coaches face the challenge of introducing new schemes over a week and a half of practices. Webb said coaches must maintain a “delicate balance” of teaching fundamentals to ensure player safety and installing plays so they can be competitive in spring games.

There’s also a much more basic hurdle for coaches to clear.

“It’s also difficult to just try to learn 100 names,” Webb said with a chuckle. “Then you have to be able to identify the skill set that matches that name. So the first spring is really tough.” 

The transition to new leadership was a bit more jarring for East Hall, which saw 11-year coach Bryan Gray resign last month. That opened the door for Patrick, Gray’s longtime defensive line coach, to take over the program.

Patrick said his ascension to head man took place over the last two weeks, forcing him to quickly put a spring plan together.

“I’ve just hit it head on,” Patrick said. “I’ve been a part of the East Hall community all my life. I had privilege of being in the program when coach Wayne Bradshaw was here for a few years, then he moved on. So I’ve just been taking what I’ve learned from coach Gray and coach Bradshaw, taking their influences and putting it all together.”

His staff has implemented just a few concepts on both offense and defense over the last few weeks, accompanied by the usual emphasis on fundamentals.

West Hall, meanwhile, is due for a bit of an overhaul on offense thanks to depth and returning production at the skill positions. 

After running a bruising run-first system under Lotti, Montgomery said the Spartans were already planning to “open things up a little bit” next season even before they experienced a coaching change.

“It’s just so exciting seeing it come to fruition,” Montgomery said. “We worked inside all throughout the winter, so now seeing it in action with the pads on, it’s just exciting to try something different.”

He’ll have a chance to see his new-look scheme in action when West Hall hosts North Hall for a spring scrimmage at 7 p.m. Friday in Oakwood. The threat of inclement weather, however, may force an adjustment for the Spartans like it did for East Hall and Gainesville. 

The Vikings had to cancel their Saturday scrimmage against Hampton, while the Red Elephants moved their game at Stephens County from Friday evening to 10 a.m. Saturday.

Because spring scrimmages are usually the only chance coaches have to put their players on film in game situations, Patrick is intent on staging an intersquad contest Friday. Webb had no qualms about adjusting his team’s game, even if it means an early morning for his players.

“We need to get it in. I’d rather do it on a Saturday morning than lose it,” Webb said. “I’ll take it any way I can get it. From a coaching perspective, it’s obviously an adverse situation. I actually think that’s good for us because I want to see how kids respond to that.”

Just one more challenge for a team that has already spent the spring learning a whole new system.