Area prep football programs wrapped up their spring practices with scrimmages over the past two weekends.
There were several interesting storylines as programs entered what is essentially the beginning of the upcoming 2017 season. Coaching changes -- including big changes in Ben Hall moving from Jefferson to Flowery Branch and Jess Simpson stepping down at Buford after winning seven state titles -- offered some new looks for some teams around the area.
AccessWDUN was out-and-about around the area over the past two weeks talking to coaches and we have compiled a video montage for some early glimpses of what fans can expect in just 13 short weeks before the beginning of the 2017 regular season.
Outcomes notwithstanding, the perceptions of area football seemed positive for the new/old Georgia High School Association spring scrimmage rules that allowed teams to scrimmage opposing teams.
Most area teams finished up this past weekend, with East Hall closing out the spring season against Hampton High on Saturday.
The general consensus was allowing teams the opportunity to experience game-like scenarios and speed would hasten the learning curves for new and older players as they prepare for fall practice in August.
“I think it gives you a chance to see the kids in a game-type situation, how they perform against somebody else,” said Gainesville coach Bruce Miller, whose Red Elephants took on Stephens County at City Park. “Twenty-something years ago we used to do it, and I think it's a good idea because you go do nine days of practice hitting each other and then all of a sudden you get to hit someone else, you can really see how the guys adjust to the situation.”
West Hall coach Tony Lotti, who Spartans hosted North Hall in cross-county scrimmage, felt much the same as Miller, as did the Trojans’ David Bishop.
"We were very excited about having the opportunity to scrimmage against someone else,” Lotti said. “You can't simulate game-speed and how people will react as well going against yourself. North Hall gave us an opportunity to see what we have against a program that is always well-coached."
“Having the chance to scrimmage against other teams gives you the opportunity to evaluate game situations better,” Bishop said.
For new Buford coach John Ford, who has the unenviable task of following seven-time state champion Jess Simpson, their finishing scrimmage against Houston County offered the former Roswell coach a chance to see how his new team is responding to a new offensive system.
“The transition’s been great. These kids are awesome kids. They know how to prepare, know how to win. There’s a great culture here,” Ford said. “You go against each other for nine days you got to have an opportunity to go against somebody else, a different look, kind of get out there and see some live bullets, so I was glad to see that, see how our kids responded.”
So how did the players react to the new offensive system?
“Not bad, not bad. We’ve got to clean up a lot of little things; we’ve got to play a lot faster,” he said.
New Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart used their scrimmage against Lakeside-Atlanta get a look at the progress made as the Dragons lost both coordinators in the offseason and are implementing new systems on both sides of the ball.
“It's certainly good to have a kind of dry run, especially with Georgia only allowing one scrimmage in the fall. This was really good for us to have an opportunity to see where we were,” Cathcart said. “There were some good things that happened in the scrimmage. But there was also some kinks we'll work through the whole summer with some passing league and communicating and things like that. Like I said, it's such a benefit to kind of have a dress rehearsal like that.”
Chestatee’s Shaun Conley, now in his second year at the helm of the War Eagles, was a fan of the new changes as they took on Union County at War Eagle Stadium.
"It’s huge for us,” he said. “We were getting tired of beating on ourselves. It's good for us to be able to line up against another team and see what we got against them."
But as with several area coaches, Conley was looking at the scrimmage as a way to see what progress has been made program-wide.
"I think we're playing a little bit better than we were last year at this time,” Conley said. “Last year everything was brand new. This year we’re trying to build on that a little bit. The kids are more familiar. Last year we came in with two total different new systems on both sides of the ball. This year we were able to build on that because the kids were familiar with what we were doing."