Wednesday September 20th, 2017 3:36AM

New signals: Start of 2014 in NE Georgia defined by new quarterbacks

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
  Contact Editor
If the last couple of seasons were known as the Year(s) of the Quarterback, it will be interesting to see what is on the horizon for area high school football teams in 2014.<br /> <br /> Fans may need to check rosters before venturing to contests this season, as nine teams will be unveiling new signal-callers. But it's not just the number of new faces, but the faces graduated that carries added weight.<br /> <br /> Gone are Gainesville's Deshaun Watson (one state title), Buford's two-headed monster of Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder (two state titles each), North Hall's Andrew Smith, Jackson McDonald of Flowery Branch, and North Gwinnett's Hayden Sphire (Class AAAAAA state runner-up) to name but a few.<br /> <br /> West Hall coach Tony Lotti, who also will trot out a new quarterback to replace the graduated Zach English -- who led the Spartans to their first state playoff appearance in 11 years -- said it can run in cycles.<br /> <br /> "There are a lot of new faces out there at quarterback. It should be exciting to see what they do as a group," Lotti said. "It happens like that sometimes. Every so often everyone cycles in a new quarterback at the same time. It can keep things interesting."<br /> <br /> The Spartans will watch as sophomores Jacob Satterfield and A.J. Favorite battle for the starting spot. <br /> <br /> "Jacob and A.J. are both showing that they can take over for Zach (English) and hopefully they'll continue to improve," Lotti said.<br /> <br /> However, no spotlight will be as bright as the one shining down on Mikey Gonzalez at Gainesville, who has the unenviable task of following Deshaun Watson, who set several state records and won one state title -- Gainesville's first GHSA crown -- in his four years running the Red Elephants' spread offense before moving on to Clemson.<br /> <br /> Yet Gainesville is more than comfortable with Gonzalez leading the way.<br /> <br /> "He has been in the system for three years and has waited his turn. Second, he knows the system and was 19-2 as the JV starter in the same offense," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said during spring practice. "Mikey's job will be to distribute the ball around. He was very efficient in practice in doing that. We're not going to change what we do. Mikey knows how to run this offense, just in a different way than Deshaun."<br /> <br /> Another tough job will be the one senior John Urzua will have in taking over for Hayden Sphire at North Gwinnett. Sphire led the Bulldogs to the Class AAAAAA championship game in 2013.<br /> <br /> "Urzua filled in well for us at times last year when Hayden was out and I expect him to have a good year," North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said. "It's some big shoes to fill but I think he'll be up to the task."<br /> <br /> Then there is Buford, which is replacing its two-headed quarterback monster of Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder, who combined to lead the Wolves to two state titles while sharing the helm, for another possible quarterback duo of Luke Humphrey and Mic Roof -- the two were battling for the starting spot at the start of fall practice.<br /> <br /> "Luke (a senior) is a system guy. He's grown up in this program, and he knows exactly what we want. He's also developed into a tremendous leader for this team," Simpson said. "Mic (a sophomore) really has surprised the most of anyone this fall. He's come on leaps and bounds and has really picked things up."<br /> <br /> In Hall County, East Hall's Devin Watson and Johnson's Chase Sims are the only only returning established quarterbacks among the public schools. Jefferson gun-slinger Evan Shirreffs returns, as does Jackson County's Jacob Lewis (2,579 yards passing in 2013) and White County's AJ Vandiver -- now a seasoned runner that has improved his passing game in the Warriors' triple option offense.<br /> <br /> An outstanding athlete, Watson flashed moments of brilliance last season for the Vikings, passing for 2,478 yards, and hopes to become more consistent as a passer -- and in the process help push the Vikings over the 5-5 mark and into the playoffs after three straight .500 campaigns.<br /> <br /> "(Devin's) a wonderful kid. He's intelligent and learning to be coached in the finer techniques of being a quarterback," East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. "He's a great athlete, but he knows that to be a great quarterback he's got get better at things like his footwork. But he's a year bigger and stronger, and he's motivated. He wants to be a great quarterback."<br /> <br /> Other notable changes at quarterback this season are plentiful. Flowery Branch will have athletic sophomore Jasen Johnson replace Jackson McDonald. Chestatee turns to Logan Cates, a system quarterback that has led the War Eagles split-back veer on junior varsity, for the departed Wyatt Burgess. And North Hall will have Maddox Turner and eventually Drew Atha under center to replace Andrew Smith (Atha has been hobbled by lower leg injuries this summer and fall but could be ready to play soon -- the injury necessitated the move of Turner to QB).<br /> <br /> Collin Grant also has big shoes to fill at Rabun County taking over for two-year standout Wes Holcombe, while Lanier shifted 2013 starter Canyon Cook to the defense to give Tahj Tolbert a shot at running the offense.<br /> <br /> They are shots that signal callers around the area are relishing -- and fans will be anxious to see how they respond.
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