CHANNEL 2 SPORTS ZONE GAME OF THE WEEK: GRAYSON AT N. GWINNETT
It’s a marriage made in football heaven: Bob Sphire, a mad scientist of an offensive coach, and C.J. Uzomah, a Frankenstein of a quarterback.
They have come together in Suwanee at North Gwinnett High School and there they have terrorized opposing defenses for the better part of two seasons. Tonight, Sphire will unleash his offensive monstrosity against Grayson in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs. The 7:30 p.m. game will be televised as the Channel 2 Sports Zone Friday Game of the Week (live on Charter 126/Comcast 248; 1 a.m. replay on WSB Ch. 2).
Make no mistake about it: North Gwinnett (11-0) has been good every year since Sphire has been at the controls (57-8 in five seasons). But while he is the man pulling the levers behind the curtain, never before has he had the athletic diversity with which to work that Uzomah provides.
You could say that the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Uzomah, an Auburn commitment, is the Bulldogs’ quarterback. But that would be too simplistic of a description. He’s just as apt to line up at wide receiver or tight end or running back on any given play. And rarely is he posted as a decoy. If he lines up somewhere, it tends to be because Sphire wants to get the ball to him.
“I’ve never seen one like him,” Sphire said of his star player. “He can do a ton of things and he does them all well. And he’s a wonderful kid to coach. He’ll do whatever we ask.”
They’re asking a lot.
Uzomah actually played five different positions on one single scoring drive earlier this season against Collins Hill. He began the series at quarterback, then played running back, flanker, tight end and split end, making plays at each position before winding up the drive back under center.
That uncanny diversity is reflected in the Bulldogs’ box scores. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 535 yards on 73 carries (7.3 ypc), has completed 77 percent of his passes for 782 yards and 8 touchdowns (with one interception) and has caught 14 passes for 258 yards and three more scores. That’s 1,575 yards and 18 TDs he has accounted for.
Just in case you weren’t convinced of Uzomah’s versatility, he’s also the team’s punter (37.5 average) and serves as the deep safety on defense for Hail Mary situations.
“I enjoy it,” Uzomah says of being lined up all over the field. “I think I’m very fortunate to be put in position to play for such a brilliant coach.”
The main reason Sphire has the luxury of moving around Uzomah so liberally is he’s blessed with another gifted quarterback. Scotty Hosch is a 6-2, 185-pound junior who, while less of an athletic freak, is equally adept at making the offense move. He has passed for 866 yards and 11 touchdowns with only one interception.
“He’d be starting for almost anybody in the state,” Sphire said of Hosch. “Very cerebral. He’s more of a traditional pocket spread thrower instead of the running spread. He’s a coach on the field really.”
You can almost picture Sphire rubbing his hands together and licking his lips as he describes his two quarterbacks’ abilities. The players, too, get excited by the possibilities.
“It’s funny because Scotty and I have separate playbooks set up for us,” Uzomah said. “So every Monday we’re always excited to see what he came up with for us. We’ll compare the plays and sometimes there will be a new one in there and we’ll be like, ‘wow, I bet we’re gonna bust one on that!’”
That’s one of the attractions of playing for Sphire, a Tony Franklin disciple who learned the Spread directly from the offensive guru while the two lived in Kentucky. Sphire was the head coach at Lexington Catholic High and Franklin was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Hal Mumme at Kentucky two miles away. Sphire would visit regularly to study the intricacies of the system. And when Mumme was dismissed from UK, the two conspired as coaches of the Kentucky Horsemen indoor football team.
Uzomah said he knew none of that when he first strolled into the fieldhouse and met Sphire as a North Gwinnett ninth grader.
“I just happened to be in the North Gwinnett system and he showed up,” Uzomah said of Sphire “I had heard about how he was turning things around. But I didn’t realize how much of a difference he was going to make.”
Meanwhile, it was Auburn that convinced Uzomah late this past summer he should come play his college ball with them. While other teams wrestled with where to play Uzomah on the next level, Gus Malzahn, another offensive mad man, told Uzomah what he wanted to hear. “Come here as a wide receiver,” he told him, “and we’ll line you up at the Wildcat and move you around a little and see what happens.”
Some folks may have noticed what Malzahn has done with another versatile athlete on the Plains. Pay-for-play scandals aside, Atlanta’s similarly-built Cameron Newton has put college football on its ear and Auburn into the national championship race.
Uzomah has noticed, too. But he hasn’t gotten any indication they plan to utilize him similarly.
“I haven’t talked to them very much since I committed, to be honest,” he said. “So right now they still want me as a wide receiver as far as I know. But some of the zone-read stuff they do with [Newton] where he’s reading the tackle and the end, we actually do a lot of that here at North Gwinnett. So I could see myself doing that. But I don’t know if I will or not.”
Uzomah will definitely be doing it tonight against Grayson, which just so happens to feature one of the stingiest defenses in Class AAAAA football.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than Grayson,” said Uzomah, who scored a long touchdown against the Rams in a 28-15 exhibition win to start the season. “They’re a physical team and we know that. They’ve had a lot of players injured and they’ve had some tough calls go against them. You can see on film they’re better than their record shows. We know we have to be ready to play our best game.”
Win or lose, you can bet Uzomah will have had a lot to do with it.