North Gwinnett’s Caleb Scott (9) leaps in the air for extra yards during last week’s game against Camden in the Corky Kell Classic. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
NORTH GWINNETT at GRAYSON
North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Bob Sphire
Last week: Beat Camden County 34-14
Grayson Rams (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: Mickey Conn
Last week: Lost to Colquitt County 21-6
Last meeting: North Gwinnett won 28-10 in second round of last year’s playoffs
Directions to Grayson High School: From I-85, go east on Sugarloaf Parkway to Ga. Highway 20 and turn right. Proceed through Grayson and turn right on
Hope Hollow Road. School is immediately on the left
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
For the last eight years, Robert Andrews has been used to standing on the home sideline during Grayson football games.
The former Rams defensive coordinator will get a different view Friday. Andrews returns to Grayson (0-1), but is now the defensive coordinator at North Gwinnett (1-0).
“He thinks a lot about his time there and I know he cares a lot about those kids,” North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. “It’s hard to get out of your blood when you’ve had that kind of experience and spent that kind of time with them. It makes for some interesting banter.”
Andrews helped build Grayson into a state power during his tenure with the Loganville school, including a 24-0 win over Walton in the 2011 state championship game. Andrews left Grayson in the spring to take the head coaching job at East Jackson. But after some unforeseen changes with the program, he left the school and was hired at North Gwinnett.
“It’s really not about the coaches. It’s about the kids and getting them ready,” Grayson coach Mickey Conn said. “We’re still learning and getting experience. This will be a really tough test for us.”
Andrews’ return to Grayson makes Friday’s matchup that much more interesting. North and Grayson have been two of the state’s premier programs for the last seven years. Grayson has won four region titles and a state crown. North has three region championships and a state runner-up finish in 2007.
They faced each other in the second round of the playoffs last season where Grayson was considered the heavy favorite as the defending state champ. North Gwinnett took a rare win over Grayson on its home field.
“I don’t have any illusions of the carry over from last year’s game and how that’s going to motivate and drive,” Sphire said. “That’s probably been a mantra all offseason. That’s how it ought to be. It’s high school football. If you can’t have rivalries, then what’s the fun in it?”
North Gwinnett is coming off an impressive 34-14 win over Camden County in the Corky Kell Classic. Bulldogs QB Hayden Sphire made his first career varsity start and threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Nate Brown caught four passes for 75 yards and two TDs, while Caleb Scott had four catches for 50 yards and one TD. Running C.J. Leggett rushed for 146 yards and one TD.
“I thought they looked good,” Conn said. “They looked like a good football team and they were well prepared for Saturday.”
It wasn’t quite the same story for Grayson, which has just one returning starter from last season. Quarterback Hunter Schuessler, who made his first varsity start as well in a 21-6 loss to Colquitt County, threw for 50 yards, two interceptions and was sacked four times.
“Their quarterback I’m sure learned a lot in his first start,” Sphire said. “They played against what arguably a lot of people in Georgia think is the best team in the state. They are just going to get better off that.”
Grayson running backs Aares McCall and Cameryn Bryant combined to rush for 180 yards.
“We just have a lot of inexperience out there,” Conn said. “I was happy with their effort from the start to the end.”
The Grayson offense will try to gain some more experience Friday, but it won’t be easy against their former coach.
“Obviously, he’s going to have inside knowledge of what the tendencies are and the little tricks of the trade,” Sphire said. “But they are going to know him. It’s just another form of a chess match.”