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Football: Five things we learned at media day
Media Day

There are different places for fans to possibly mark the beginning of high school football season on their calendars.

Some will consider the first regular-season game to be the start of the year. Others will point to the vital scrimmages most teams play a week or two before that as the season-opening marker. Still others point to the first practice in August.

But the most tuned-in supporters understand that Forsyth County News Media Day truly serves as the local football season kickoff event.

Here are five things we learned from players and coaches of nine local schools during interviews conducted Wednesday at Altura Social.

1. Lambert players lobbied for Beach promotion

As soon as Tommy Watson announced he would be leaving his post as Lambert head football coach after two seasons to take over the Harris County program, the Longhorns players knew they wanted Marc Beach to replace Watson.

Beach served as Lambert’s offensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021 after spending a handful of years in the same role at Tift County.

“We all wanted Beach as the head coach,” Lambert senior quarterback James Tyre said. “Right when Watson made the call he was leaving, we all went to the AD and said, ‘We want Beach as our head coach.’ We fought for it, and that’s what we got. We’re all excited.”

Under Beach’s direction, Tyre accounted for 20 total touchdowns, nearly 1,900 total yards and just interception in leading the Longhorns to nearly 28 points per game. 

Lambert, which finished 7-4 last fall with a trip to the Class 7A state playoffs, will hope to maintain its offensive consistency with Beach leading the team. While the offense did get altered somewhat during the regime change, the concepts of the past two seasons will largely stay in place.

The promotion, though, also offers the Longhorns the chance to improve their defense through rare continuity.

“Since we were able to keep an in-staff hire, we were able to keep a lot of the same coordinators and position coaches,” senior linebacker James Tripp said. “We’re repping the same defense for the second year in a row for the first time in our high school careers.”

2. Bulldogs will rely heavily on offensive line

Ask football coaches at almost any level, they will say that offensive line is the most important position on the field. Quarterbacks and skill-position players get most of the offensive glory, but those players wouldn’t be able to operate without the work of those blocking for them.

Last year, that blocking part was a struggle at times for Forsyth Central. The Bulldogs, in David Rooney’s first season at the helm, didn’t have a single senior in the offensive trenches.

That’s a recipe for a long debut campaign, and so it was, with the Bulldogs finishing 2-8 overall and 0-6 in Region 6-7A. But the flip side of not having any upperclassmen last year is that the team didn’t graduate any offensive linemen.

Now, that group is back with something to prove.

“We worked all summer on getting stronger,” Rooney said. “Last year, we were young across the board. We had zero seniors on our offensive line. As everybody knows in football, you’re going to go offensively the way your offensive line goes. The biggest thing was getting stronger. These four and the rest of the team really bought into that. They lived in the weight room and got a ton stronger from where we were a year ago today.”

Senior Luke Sacchetti, who recently received an offer from Kennesaw State, anchors the unit after grading out at 90% last season and leading Forsyth Central in pancake blocks. He expects a big year out of the big boys.

“We had a very young O-line, so having another notch on their belt of varsity football and another year in the weight room, I think we’re really going to surprise some people with what we’ve got up front,” Sacchetti said. “We’re going to be very big, very strong. We’re just going to play bully football and drive people around.”

3. Raiders coaches have been studying hard

There are seven new teams on the schedule for North Forsyth this fall, when the Raiders drop down to Class 6A.

While Gainesville is the only Region 6-7A rival that North Forsyth will see again in Region 8-6A play, the Raiders will face two other programs that managed to stay in their former region — county foes Forsyth Central and West Forsyth.

“With a new region and new coaching staffs that we haven’t gone against, we, as a coaching staff, have probably done more offseason studying and preparing for a lot of these new teams than we’ve done [in the past],” Craft said. “… Our schedule is unique in that we still get to play some of our in-county rivals but also get to play some new teams from around the state.”

North Forsyth isn’t just switching regions. The Raiders are facing several programs for the first time ever. In a sport like football in which success is predicated so much on preparation, it leads to a busy offseason of trying to learn about five new region foes. 

That being said, Craft is looking at the situation as a positive thing.

“It is a lot of new,” he said. “Of the teams in the region, only one of them is a team we’ve played in the last six years since I’ve been the head coach. It’s going to be new to all of the players on our roster, and it’s going to be new to our coaching staff.

“That brings a lot of excitement. We’re just excited to be able to take our brand of high school football at North Forsyth and expose that to other counties, a new region and a new classification with 6A.”

4. Denmark used 7-on-7s to pursue region repeat

In its brief history, Denmark has boasted one of the top quarterbacks (Aaron McLaughlin) and one of the best wide receivers (Ze’Vian Capers) to ever call Forsyth County home.

But this summer marked the first time that the Danes hit the summer 7-on-7 circuit hard as a team. Despite coming off the first region championship in program history, Denmark head coach Mike Palmieri thought it was important to help get a little more state-wide exposure for the Danes.

“We traveled really for the first time as a program,” Palmieri said. “We went to Georgia, went to Georgia Tech and went to Kennesaw [State]. They competed really well. We had some big improvements in that area of the program to get our name, get our logo out there.”

Having been eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by two of the preeminent programs in Class 7A in back-to-back seasons (Collins Hill in 2020 and Grayson in 2021), Denmark wanted to get more of a measuring stick in the offseason.

“It was great all of us being out there on the field in the offseason, competing against other teams and seeing where we stack up,” senior running back Amon Williams said.

While Williams is able to contribute in 7-on-7s, catching passes out of the backfield, the exercise pays much greater dividends for the connection between quarterbacks and wide receivers.

“Yeah, 7-on-7 is great for our program.” senior wide receiver Lake Thoman said. “We like to throw the football around and get the offense rolling. It’s great offensive-wise in 7-on-7, especially as a receiver when you get to throw the ball every play. We have a great time. We have fun. We build great camaraderie and become a better team every day.”

5. Horizon Christian boasting new offensive identity

Horizon Christian certainly wasn’t lacking on offense in 2021. The Warriors scored 40-plus points in all but two of their regular-season games.

However, Horizon scored 28 and 36 points, respectively, in its two playoff games. Respectable totals, to be sure, in 11-man football, but a tad on the low side in the 8-man version.

As such, the Warriors are switching some things up in hopes of lighting up the scoreboard even more often this season.

“It won’t be a secret soon,” Horizon head coach Damon Taylor said. “We’re going to go fast this year. Have you seen how fast Tennessee goes? We’re going Tennessee fast. It’s pretty cool to watch. We have a lot going on offensively.“

If Wednesday’s comments were any indication, the Warriors are excited about the changes.

“We’re going to have a new offense, but we have a lot of new players, which means they haven’t seen our old offense,” senior Jackson Harris said. “Our new offense is going to be really good. I believe that we have confidence in that. It’s looking great.

“The new language is a lot easier to understand. We can run a lot out of that. Can’t wait to see what it does.”