GAINESVILLE -- Bob Christmas is well aware of the special talent that Imani Cross brought to North Hall football.
That's why the Trojans coach won't be saddling the burden of replacing Cross's production on just one North Hall back in 2012.
"We won't have anyone as prolific as Imani -- he's at Nebraska for a reason -- but what we will have is some real depth and several quality backs we can run in there," Christmas said. "We've got a bunch of backs that will run hard and love the game. And you won't see much of a drop off when we rotate those guys."
Players such as Kevin Christmas, Zac Little, Marcus Hulsey, Isaac Seid, Brandon Dyer, Trystan Regnier, David Epps and Destin Bennett will each take their reps as they look to make up for the 1,706 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns that Cross supplied in his senior campaign in 2011 (he also racked up a team-high 88 tackles as a linebacker). And each has been preparing hard this summer to make the most of the opportunity.
"We've got people in the backfield that can get it done," said Hulsey, a senior. "We don't have any all-stars, just a bunch of good backs."
Kevin Christmas also believes the running back corps will be aided by an imposing offensive line.
"Our line will be as strong as any we've ever had this season," said Kevin Christmas, also a senior. "They're working hard, and they're also a smart group."
North Hall's running backs also believe they will be aided by some tweaks to the Trojans' offensive attack.
"It's going to be faster-paced," senior quarterback Bradley Brown said. "Our backs will be at full speed when they're getting the ball, and I think that will make a difference."
Coach Christmas says not to expect any sea-changes to the Trojans' tried-and-true rush-oriented attack, but North Hall has made some slight to alterations to the wing-T offense it has leaned on since his arrival in Gainesville in 2001.
"We've tweaked some stuff and added to it," coach Christmas said. "Some of what you'll see is very much the same."
Finding the right players to pace that attack has been one of the keys of this summer for a North Hall team ready for a new challenge after watching a seismic shift in the landscape of Region 8-AAA.
Gone is old rival Gainesville, along with former subregion rivals Stephens County and Lumpkin County. Cross-county rival Chestatee has also moved up, though the Trojans will face the War Eagles in a non-region showdown in the season opener (Aug. 31).
Moving in, however, is Buford -- which just missed out on a fifth straight Class AA championship last season -- as well as Banks County, Dawson County, East Hall and Fannin County.
"Of course Buford is a state powerhouse in any class; they'll be the team to beat," coach Christmas said. "A lot of these other teams will be new to us though. We haven't played East Hall or West Hall in a few years (2007 for each). It's been a long time since we've played Fannin County (2005 was their last contest). We've never played Banks County. So there are a lot of unknowns for us coming into this region."
Christmas does feel safe in believing this will be an extremely difficult schedule, however -- and that goes beyond Buford.
"Dawson County may have as many as 27 seniors," Christmas said. "That's an incredible number for a school in this classification. White County played us real tough last year and will be a year older and better. And we're playing a Chestatee team that is also loaded with seniors, and Jefferson has a bunch too. I think this may be as tough a schedule if not tougher than the last few we've had."
That said North Hall's players are looking forward to the challenge.
"We've been pushing ourselves from the very first day this summer, and we're not scared of anyone," Brown said.
"Better competition will only make us better," Hulsey added. "We just have to work hard and get ready. We've got to treat every single practice just like a game. When we're getting near the end of the workout that's like the fourth quarter of a game -- and we want to finish every fourth quarter strong."