Photo: Karl L. Moore Central Gwinnett's Rasheed Diaz (45) just misses sacking Collins Hill's Brett Sheehan (12) during Friday night's game at Collins Hill.
Central Gwinnett's football team worked on some fairly major changes in the offseason, and the reward finally came last Friday night.
Head coach Todd Wofford thought his team made some major strides, but it wasn't until a 27-21 season-opening victory over Collins Hill that he saw the work in a real-game setting.
"It was great to see, just because you see in practice the way things are developing and you want to see it in game," Wofford said. "In our scrimmage, we didn't really want to show all of (the changes). We really wanted to wait and show it (against Collins Hill). It was fun to see it work against another team."
The most obvious improvement was on the defensive side, where Central held a potent Collins Hill offense in check much of the night. It was a major change from last season, when the Black Knights allowed 40.9 points per game over the season's final seven games, including a stretch of allowing 63, 56 and 49 to South Gwinnett, Brookwood and Dacula.
Central's personnel isn't vastly different, but the defensive coaching staff was revamped in the offseason, with the headliner being new defensive coordinator John Poitevint, who had been Dacula's DC in the past. He doesn't get to work with huge defensive end Francis Kallon, a senior on last year's team who is now at Georgia Tech, but the current Central defense is pretty talented, too.
Linebacker Trey Johnson, an Auburn commitment, had his usual game against Collins Hill with 15 tackles, and his teammates played just as well. J.B. Ezzell made 13 tackles from his linebacker spot, Stedman Waiters had a big game at defensive end and Darius Latimore, Orlando Banks and Nate Hartford stood out in the secondary.
"It's a group of kids who believe in what they're doing and know what they're doing out there," Wofford said of his defense, which is still a work in progress since Poitevint wasn't with the team yet during spring practice.
Offensively, Central has put up big numbers in its first two seasons under Wofford. But this year's attack, while still up-tempo, will feature the run more than ever.
The Black Knights ran the ball 48 times, with running back Johnathan Hawkins and quarterback Eman Westmoreland leading the way, against Collins Hill. The unit ran a whopping 47 first-half plays, but didn't fare as well in the second half.
That said, the running game offered a reason for optimism.
"I don't think anybody expected us to run the ball like we did on Friday," Wofford said.
Central hosts Clarke Central in Game 2 Friday.
Two local teams will accelerate their game preparation this week as Parkview plays at Norcross in a rare Thursday night varsity game.
The game was switched from its Friday night spot so it can be televised live on Channel 2.2, WSB's second digital channel. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. as planned.
WSB plans to air a game every week during the regular season, but only one other Thursday night matchup features Gwinnett teams --the Nov. 1 Grayson-Archer game.
One team will find itself in an 0-2 hole. The other will take a step in the right direction.
That's the situation facing two returning playoff teams, Collins Hill and Dacula, Friday night. The two teams both lost disappointing openers last week, with Collins Hill falling 27-21 to Central and Dacula losing 35-0 at Mill Creek.
Collins Hill dug a 20-7 halftime deficit against Central and never recovered in Game 1.
"I don't think we were focused and ready to play," Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said.
Dacula struggled to put up points against Mill Creek and also gave up 358 rushing yards.