Before head coach Bob Sphire took over at North Gwinnett in 2006, the Bulldogs never won more than nine games in a single season. But that changed as soon as Sphire started and the Bulldogs have won 10 or more games the last seven seasons.
Last year, the Bulldogs were 11-2 with their two losses coming against the two teams that played in the Class AAAAAA state championship game (Lovejoy and Norcross).
“We were right there,” Sphire said in regards to last season. “But it’s 6A ball in Georgia. You have to have a break here or a break there in order to succeed.”
With 10 starters returning from last season, the Bulldogs hope more breaks will go their way in 2013. And in order for them to have a better year in 2013, quarterback Hayden Sphire will have play efficient football. However, the signal-caller should be very familiar with the offense, as his father is the team’s head coach.
“[Hayden] understands the nuances and the pre-snap reads,” Hayden’s father, Bob, said.
Another key player to the Bulldogs offense is running back C.J. Leggett who has gotten offers from Georgia State, UCLA, Vanderbilt and Yale. Leggett, who is a transfer from Chattahoochee, can run between the tackles and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Bulldogs also have receivers Caleb Scott and Nate Brown returning as each had at least 30 receptions last year. Alonzo Brown is another receiver that has reliable hands. He caught 26 passes last year and can play either wide or at the tight end spot.
The one weakness for the Bulldogs is the offensive line as they only return two starters from last year. Mitch Hyatt, who has received offers from Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Miami, will anchor the young front.
On defense, the defensive line for the Bulldogs looks to be strong and Sphire is looking forward to what they can do this season.
“We have a lot of experience on the defensive line,” Sphire said. “We can have an impactful defensive front.”
Leading the defensive front is defensive end Dante Sawyer who is a four-start recruit according to Rivals. Saywer has gotten offers from all across the country including Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.
Linebacker Carter Cross and defensive back Bobby Young are two other players to watch on defense. Young was named to the All-Region 7-AAAAA team last season.
As good as the offense and defense could be this season, special teams will be the reason the Bulldogs could make another deep playoff run as kicker Michael D’Angola could be the best in the state.
“He was a big key to our success last season,” Sphire said talking about D’Angola. “His impact is significant.”
D’Angola was another All-Region player that made 14 field goals last year including the game-winner against Colquitt County.
One big challenge for the Bulldogs will be the schedule. They open the season on Aug. 24 against Camden County at the Georgia Dome, will host Grayson the following week and will travel to Norcross to face the defending AAAAAA state champions.
But Sphire feels like his team is ready for the challenge ahead of them.
“They prepare to win a state title continuously,” Sphire said talking about his players. “They always execute at a state level.”
Class AAAAAA Preseason Top 10
2. Colquitt County
3. North Gwinnett
6. North Cobb
7. Mill Creek
10. Peachtree Ridge