Watson back to lead Red Elephants

Jason Getz/jgetz@ajc.com

Clemson commit Deshaun Watson gained national attention by quarterbacking a record breaking Red Elephant offense to a Class AAAAA title in 2012. Gainesville jumped up two classifications from its Class AAA home in 2011 and spent much of 2012 exposing the new slate of opponents. During the championship run, Gainesville averaged 48.6 points per game in the postseason, including a 49-13 win over Ware County in the title game.


On the defensive side of the football, linebacker Devan Stringer returns after recording 135 tackles in 2012. At wideout is Rodney Lackey who posted 69 catches for 963 yards as a sophomore last season. Junior running back Michael Byrd is a duel threat and out of the backfield had 37 catches.


Watson has mastered the spread offense and he heads into the season already holding Georgia’s career records for passing yardage (9,360), all-purpose touchdowns (155) and touchdown passes (108). In 2012 he passed for 4,021 yards and rushed for 1,441. Watson become the third quarterback in state history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season and was just the second to throw 50 TD passes.


When it comes to defense however, that is a potential weakness of this team. In Gainesville’s three losses last season, they gave up a combined 113 points. Flowery Branch went 8-0 in the region and took the top seat in 8-AAAAA over Gainesville with a 35-34 win in the final week of the season. Gainesville eventually entered the playoffs at 7-3, and it was then that they hit their stride. Heading into the playoffs under the radar might have helped them, but now the defending Class AAAAA champs will wear the target on their backs in 2013.


“It has been an exciting offseason,” said head coach Bruce Miller. “We know with this schedule that the season is going to be a challenge but this is a focused group.”


Gainesville opens up with difficult non-region games against West Forsyth and Buford. The Red Elephants fell 32-30 to West Forsyth last season, and then had a huge 19-15 win over Buford in week 2.


West Forsyth broke the 60-point mark three times and scored 56 on another occasion. In the playoffs they beat Collins Hill 66-41 in the opening round. The anticipated season opener between Gainesville and West Forsyth is shaping up to be a can’t miss shoot out.


Slowing down Gainesville will be the challenge in Class AAAAA this season. With Watson under center, the Elephants have the most explosive offense in the classification if not the state. Watson spreads the ball throughout the boundaries and can make any throw while also sparking plays on the ground. With a state title, almost every state record imaginable and a 2012 Class AAAAA player of the year award in his possession, it will be a headline itself to see what Watson can produce this season.

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