50-in-50: Gainesville

This offseason has been a little busier than usual for Gainesville’s Bruce Miller.

In addition to the conditioning work and preparation for next week’s spring practice, the coach of the 2012 Class AAAAA football champion Red Elephants has spent a lot of time at speaking engagements and events like last week’s ring presentation ceremony.

He’s also spending a lot of time trying to keep expectations for the 2013 season under control.

“We were extremely excited to win it. It was the very first one for us,” Miller said. “And it kind of sets you up … with the kids we’ve got coming back, can you do it again? Of course everybody we play now has us circled on their schedule and they say, ‘This is the team we need to beat.’ But that’s just part of it. You’ve got to practice well and play well. Don’t get to thinking you’re great, because it’s a new season that’s fixing to start.”

The expectations are fueled by the return of 13 starters. But they are through the roof because of the return of Deshaun Watson, the 2012 Class AAAAA player of the year.

The quarterback will enter his senior season already holding the state’s career records for passing yardage (9,360), all-purpose touchdowns (155) and touchdown passes (108). As a junior, he passed for 4,021 yards and rushed for 1,441, becoming the third quarterback in state history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season and the second to throw 50 TD passes.

Watson, who has committed to Clemson, led an offense that averaged 45.3 points per game for the season and 48.6 during the playoffs, when the Red Elephants won their five games by an average of 29.4 points.

“Everybody knows that to stop us you have to stop him,” Miller said. “Last year, we were kind of the hunter. But with Deshaun back and the other starters we have coming back, we won’t sneak up on anybody. So we’re going to have to play good from the start.”

Watson will again have several potent weapons at his disposal. Rising junior Rodney Lackey was the team’s leading receiver and an honorable mention all-state selection in 2012, and returning running backs Michael Byrd and Jay Gaudlock combined for more than 1,000 yards rushing and about 800 receiving.

Miller said his biggest concerns heading into spring practice are the offensive and defensive lines and the secondary, where the Red Elephants will lose all-state defensive back Fred Payne, a Western Carolina signee. Payne returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown and set up another score with a 69-yard interception return in the 49-13 victory over Ware County in the state final.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Miller said. “We’re probably going to be bigger up front than we were last year. But will they jell together like they did last year? Things have got to come together for us there. I know a lot of coaches talk about this a lot, but team chemistry is huge.

“I’m glad we won the state championship, but once everybody realizes that that’s over with, they know we’ve got another season to play. Our kids have done that, and I think our coaches have, too.”

Gainesville Red Elephants

2012 record: 12-3, 6-2 in Region 8-AAAAA, beat Ware County 49-13 in the Class AAAAA championship game.

Starters returning: 7 offense, 6 defense

Key players lost: DB Fred Payne, WR Caleb Hayman, OL Chase England, DL Damian Grayson, LB Michael Pittman, DL Connor Calvert

Key players returning: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Rodney Lackey, LB Devan Stringer, RB Michael Byrd, RB Jay Gaudlock

Spring practice dates: April 29-May 10

Schedule:

Aug. 30 – at West Forsyth

Sept. 6 – Buford

Sept. 13 – Winder-Barrow

Sept. 20 – at Apalachee

Sept. 27 – at Heritage-Conyers

Oct. 4 – Cedar Shoals

Oct. 11 – Salem

Oct. 18 – at Clarke Central

Nov. 1 – at Loganville

Nov. 8 – Flowery Branch

Outlook: Gainesville won the first state championship in the program’s long, proud history in 2012, and it will start the season as a heavy favorite to win the title again this year. Record-setting quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of seven returning starters from the state’s top offense. Is it possible he could match or even surpass his numbers from last season? The Red Elephants will be tested early, opening the season with games against Class AAAAAA playoff team West Forsyth and defending Class AAA champion Buford.

10 comments Add your comment

Boston Strong

April 23rd, 2013
12:18 pm

FootballTopFan(c)

April 23rd, 2013
7:41 pm

FootballTopFan(c) would like to CONGRATULATE the Class AAAAA state champions Gainesville Red Elephants !!!

Coach Bruce Miller has put together a superb high school football program.

The first state championship in school history is great for the city and their fans.

Football Top Fan wish the Red Elephants good luck and success in 2013.

Metro Fan

April 24th, 2013
7:25 am

Deshaun Watson is the best high school football player I’ve ever seen in person… I’m sure UGA is recruiting him to play slot receiver and return punts like they wanted Cam to play TE. Watch him flip to Auburn and tear the dawgs a new @sshole three times en route to a national title and heisman trophy before going first overall in the 2016 draft.

itsonlywrite

April 24th, 2013
9:52 am

YESSIR YESSIR!! BIG RED is gonna be more potent on defense and offense this year. Deshaun may not have to throw the ball as much this year with Chris Byrd taking some of the snaps. Can’t wait for this season to start. We one of the best passing offenses in the state.

GO BIG RED!!

#ELEPHANTNATION

Dave

April 24th, 2013
10:26 am

Coach Miller, a class act! I played for him early in his career 1979 Riverwood Raiders. A solid coach with a lot of charisma. Pulling for a repeat Coach!

1bighammer

April 24th, 2013
10:32 am

Metro Fan….Watson won’t be at UGA or Auburn. Me thinks he’ll be up the road in ORANGE!

North Hall Trojans

April 25th, 2013
4:53 pm

OVERRATED!

They are pretty good on offense, but no way that defense will hold anyone under 40 points. They lost everyone on defense. It says 6 returning on “D”. They lost all but 1 starter from a defense that wasn’t that great last season.

Too bad Gainesville decided not to play North right when we are on an upswing! figures~

ErnestT

April 25th, 2013
4:57 pm

I am so bored of hearing about Gainesville! YAAAWN!

You’re right…just so happens Gainesville stops playing North Hall right when we are peaking again. They did the same thing in the 90’s when I played to avoid from playing the better North Hall teams.

Sir Nupe A Lot

April 25th, 2013
8:46 pm

Really @North Hall Trojans and @ErnestT? So you really think that is the reason why Gainesville does not wont to play y’all? Come on son, you know that Gainesville has dominated this “So Called” Rivalry since the beginning! In order for it to be a rivalry, the teams need to go back and fourth with W’s and L’s! A rivalry is not supposed to be a one way affair! Gainesville was a great team last year and North Hall was too, but Gainesville beat a team (Buford) that beat the hell out of yall handily! Just let Gainesville have this blog and try and be happy if AJC decides to do one on North Hall! OVERRATED does not win CHAMPIONSHIPS either in a big division unlike North Hall getting bounced by a Runner Up in the Final Four of a small division!!! #SorryButYetTrue

Elephant Man

April 30th, 2013
12:55 am

When does the 50 in 50 about North Hall come out?