Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan — North Gwinnett senior Ehvann Holland of Sugar Hill practices every day with his teammates, but due to his religion he can't play football on Friday night. Holland a Seventh Day Adventist rests or takes part in worship from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.
SUWANEE -- Following every game, North Gwinnett hands out four individual awards to players based on the previous game and week.Two of them recognize the effort on the field in the most recent game, the other two harken back to the week of practice, a scout team defensive and offensive award. It's how head coach Bob Sphire acknowledges the efforts of those players who may not get a chance on Friday night, but helped the team improve and prepare.
"As a coach you give those awards because it takes a special young man to work hard knowing he's probably just helping the varsity team get ready," Sphire said. " Typically, that's a sophomore or a junior."
Sometimes its a senior who relishes the atmosphere on Friday and the time with his teammates.
Then there is Ehvann Holland.
Holland is a scout team cornerback. A senior who has never seen a football Friday at North Gwinnett. Holland spent this past summer working out and running. He watches film and hits the practice field during the week. He loves the contact of football. He loves making plays; a tackle here, an interception there. He's energetic with a bright smile and a twinkle mischief in his eye. And for North Gwinnett, Holland shows up every day.
That is, except game day.
Holland and his family are Seventh Day Adventist, a Christian religion which honors its Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It's a full day of rest, worship and mediation; a strict reading of the fourth commandment to honor the Sabbath.
"It helps me stay focused," Holland said. "By the end of the weekend it helps me stay focused on my work."
And part of that work is practicing football. Holland played the past three years on Thursday on the Bulldogs' freshmen and junior varsity teams, but as a senior the carrot of the game no longer dangles before him. Practice for Holland isn't a means to an end, rather it is the end. He loves football every way he gets it.
"I just love the game, honestly," Holland said. "I get to spend time with the guys and people I grew up with. Getting a chance to play football, it's pretty nice. I love football, love football. Of course, if I am doing all this, right?"
It's a whirlwind love for Holland who first strapped on a helmet as a freshman. The Gwinnett Football League plays Saturdays, a day for rest not games for Holland. From the start, he embraced the idea of team. He loves the locker room atmosphere. He also is a part of the team's Bible studies when he can.
"I am presentable, but around my friends here, I act how I wouldn't act around you," Holland said, that glint shining behind his grin. "I can act cool or let loose, as people would say."
When Holland first joined the football team, Sphire wasn't convinced he'd stick out four years, especially without the lure of Friday nights. But with a team full of playmakers, Sphire lights up talking about Holland.
"He contributes to this team like no one would really understand unless they are on the inside," Sphire said. "People that have played high school football understand what a young man like this does for the bonding of this team. That's the ultimate give-for-the-team, it's-not-about-me kind of attitude that you want to come across in their experience and he exemplifies it."
And with Holland comes a shared team experience and memory beyond wins and losses, touchdowns and sacks.
North Gwinnett played a Saturday night game this season against South Carolina's A.C. Flora, kicking off at 6 p.m. With the move away from Friday, Sphire approached Holland about the possibility of him joining his teammates later in the game. The two lined everything up. Holland kept his shoulder pads, pants, helmet and, of course, his game jersey with him at home. He went to church and closed the Sabbath at home with his family and at sundown suited up.
"When the sun set, I said, 'It's time to go.' I put my stuff on and just headed out to the field," Holland said.
He reached the field and as his teammates pulled away from A.C. Flora for a lopsided win, he scaled a locked fence and joined his teammates on the sideline. A few moments later, he took the field.
"One thing I will not forget was the crowd actually screaming my name," Holland said. "Actually my full name. It was respect to them, it was a good feeling. It put a smile on my face."
"Everybody was so excited for him," Sphire said. "It was one of those 'Rudy' kind of moments within our own little world that we have here. High school football still has those sacred moments that can be those special times where it's not about winning, it's about kids in your community experiencing something together that they can talk about the rest of their life."
The next week, Holland returned to the scout team and spent his Friday night honoring his religion. He loves football, but football does not define him.
"It is a choice, everybody has a choice," he said. "My choice is, 'God goes first.'"