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Football: Central coaches, West grads return to the gridiron with Peach State Cats
Tim Hartshorn, left, and Gabe Pierce coach football at Forsyth Central High School. They both played at West Forsyth and are returning to the field as players this summer with the Peach State Cats, an arena football team based in Cumming. - photo by Jacob Smith

Do not be alarmed when a group of fourth-graders from Haw Creek Elementary rush the gates at Cumming Fairgrounds on April 25. 

Their teacher, Tim Hartshorn, will play alongside his high school teammate, Gabe Pierce, and the rest of the Peach State Cats in the inaugural season of the United Arena League, an amateur football team based in Cumming. 

Hartshorn and Pierce both played football at West Forsyth in high school before playing collegiately. Hartshorn kicked at Presbyterian College and Pierce played running back his freshman year at Reinhardt University before retiring due to injuries. 

“I’ve probably regretted that since I made the decision,” Pierce said. “Now I’ve got this opportunity to play again. I’ll take it.” 

Both coached for their former head coach Frank Hepler at Forsyth Central for the past three years, with Pierce the ninth-grade running backs coach and Hartshorn the special teams assistant. 

“Coach Hepler has been a great family friend, so when I was interested in coaching, I contacted him immediately,” Hartshorn said. “He was willing and it’s been awesome getting to work with him so far.”

When the news of the Cats coming to Cumming got a hold of the chatter between Central’s coaching staff, Pierce said it started off with jokes about trying out for the team, but he and Hartshorn both were eager to return to the field as players. 

“I remember scrolling through Facebook and seeing that because of COVID, their tryout got moved to Otwell,” Hartshorn said. “So, I said, ‘Why not?’ I’ve been wanting to get on the field and play since I graduated college. This really was the perfect opportunity. Close by home and I’m still young.” 

Though Pierce played running back at West and Reinhardt, he practices with the receivers since the United Arena League is 8-man football, with only three linemen. The field will be only 50 yards long and 27 yards wide. 

Hartshorn will also play a new position. 

“I came out to be a kicker and nobody was there to throw,” Hartshorn said. “I offered to throw and now I’m on the depth chart at quarterback, so practices are different than I’ve ever had. I’m actually having to go through some real things rather than just kicking.” 

After getting used to the return to football practice, Pierce said it’s obvious that the Cats are going to be all about speed on the field. After the preseason scrimmage, the Cats will play a nine-game season from May 8-July 10, with the UAL championship in Columbia County on July 24. 

Though Pierce, 25, said he knows his chances of moving up the ladder to the National Football League might be done, he loves football and could not be more thankful for the opportunity to continue his playing days.

Hartshorn said his coach has reached out about kicking at higher levels, but is just glad to be back on the gridiron. 

“Football has been part of my life forever,” Hartshorn said. “Part of the main reason of going into teaching was the want to coach. I wanted to continue to have football in my life, and now to get back on the field to play is awesome, and [I] get to keep it in my life.”

The Cats’ preseason scrimmage is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 25 at the Cumming Fairgrounds.