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Thursday October 18th, 2018 1:52AM

Spring football: Webb says Red Elephants' transition fully under way

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

GAINESVILLE — Heath Webb is not about to make any pronouncements about the state of Gainesville football from his first spring in charge of the Red Elephants.

After three months on the job, however, Webb is more than pleased with the path his new charges are treading.

"I feel like we're in good shape right now; the players are buying into my way of thinking, and there is definitely a cultural mind-shift under way," said Webb, who assumed control of Gainesville in February following Bruce Miller's decision to step aside after a stellar 16-year stint that included the 2012 Class 5A state championship. "The first thing I had to do was build relationships with players, coaches, faculty, parents, boosters -- anyone who wanted to be involved with the program. Everything I do revolves around relationships."

With 100 players involved in spring practice -- not to mention the complete renovation of locker rooms at the school and the installation of the state's largest high school video board at City Park -- Webb has kept himself busy.

"The roster I was handed when I got here had 37 kids on it. We've got several new guys out that are either rising freshmen or have been away from the game," said Webb, who came from Winder-Barrow after turning the Bulldoggs from also-rans into a perennial playoff program with four straight state appearances in Webb's four seasons, 2014-17, to halt a 10-year playoff drought.

"I feel like we've got a great deal of depth in that group."

At 10 a.m. Saturday Webb will watch that group's reaction when faced with a challenge for the first time under new stewardship, as the Red Elephants scrimmage Stephens County in Toccoa (a start time shifted from Friday night due to the chances of severe weather).

"The goal is to see who wants to compete and how they respond to adversity," Webb said. "I want to see us in a bad situation and see how we respond."

Through almost three weeks of spring practice, Webb is encouraged by what he's seen on the practice field.

"We had a break-through in practice seven (Tuesday); we've had our ups and downs physically and mentally, but we put it all together (Tuesday)," Webb said. "That's a tribute to the kids, and shows me that we're a little bit ahead of the curve."

It helps that leaders have already stepped forward through winter workouts and spring ball.

"(Rising junior lineman) AJ Toliver is a guy that leads vocally and by example," Webb said. "(Rising junior lineman) Makius Scott has done the same, as has (rising senior receiver/defensive back) Isaiah Young," Webb said. 

That two of the team's leaders come from the lines of scrimmage is no coincidence. 

"I think we're very good on the offensive and defensive lines right now," Webb said. "The skill guys are still developing. We've got talent, but a lot of those guys are inexperienced at the varsity level."

It is a situation that Gainesville and Webb know must be addressed -- including at quarterback, where the Red Elephants are set to start their fifth new signal caller in five seasons (GHS has not enjoyed a returning starter at the position since Deshaun Watson's senior campaign in 2013). But Webb says there is plenty of competition for places.

"It's that way for a lot of spots, and we've got several guys doing a good job," Webb said. "And we'll have all summer and the 7-on-7s to help settle things and teach."

Webb and his staff are working -- overtime in some cases -- to help impart as much as they can, with a number of assistants that are still finishing the school year with other systems before joining Gainesville City, which means some long commutes for practice.

"I want to thank all of those guys; they're working hard right now -- some of them are hustling over from other places after school gets out, and I'm thankful for their sacrifices," Webb said of a group that includes offensive coordinator Chris Davis and defensive coordinator Artie Ulmer. "Every coach has a sense there's something special about Gainesville and that the support here is deep, and it's nice to get on the inside of that."

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Gainesville football
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