Bruce Miller is entering his 15th year at the helm of the Gainesville football program.
IN A WAY, GAINESVILLE’S FINAL GAME OF 2015 WAS A MICRO-
cosm of the team’s season. Tough losses on the field, compounded
by injuries to several key starters set up a tense finish to the regular
season. Then, Bruce Miller’s plucky Red Elephants team seized clutch
wins to reach the playoffs and come within a single score of knocking
off a No. 1 seed on its own field. It all turned around when Miller and
his coaching staff had a heart-to-heart with their players following two
consecutive losses to region opponents. The coaches asked the players
to look ahead to the legacy they wanted to leave.
At the time, Miller’s team was at its lowest in the middle of the year,
when it became clear it could not overcome local rival Lanier as the
top seed from Region 8-AAAAA. On top of that, Gainesville was missing
starters on both offense and defense.
“We had a lot of talks that week of what we represent,” said Miller.
The Red Elephants trailed 28-6 at halftime before ripping off four
“The traditions we want to carry on. They could have easily folded their
tent and fallen apart, but they rallied around each other. So we knew, if
they wanted to do it, they could go out and get a home playoff game and
From that point on, Gainesville embarked on a four-game win streak,
including a victory over Alexander in the first round of the postseason
before travelling to play top-seeded Stockbridge in the Round of 16.
second-half touchdowns to force overtime, before falling to the Tigers in
heart-breaking fashion. Still, the comeback proved that Gainesville could
stand up to the test.
“Football, I’ve heard a lot of people say, it’s like life,” said Miller. “It’s
tough. You have to endure the physical and the mental parts of it and the
grind. You start in August and get the season going, with all the ups and
downs and injuries you get. But you can’t get too high on the ups or too
low on the downs. Attitude has a lot to do with it. If they can control their
attitude and their effort, we’ll deal with the rest of it.”
The same school that has produced college talents like Clemson’s
Deshaun Watson and Alabama’s Blake Sims has a new crop of budding
quarterbacks in the pipeline. Welton Coffey enters his fourth year as head coach at Camden County.
CAMDEN COUNT Y
WELTON COFFE Y IS ALL ABOUT TEAM UNIT Y IN HIS
Camden County football program. That’s why the play he drew
up on the whiteboard for his team following a 5-5 season in
2014 was so important. Gathering his Wildcats together, Coffey
cleared the air to talk about how his players could stomp out
selfish play, build together as teammates and repair relationships from a down season.
“It was a big circle with a slash in the middle,” said Coffey. “It
was about eliminating things, getting rid of the elephant in the
room. You can’t think about yourself, that stuff infiltrates the
locker room. It takes time, but they identified it. Nobody likes
5-5, that grabbed their attention enough...If you get the right kids
to buy in, then everyone else starts falling in that direction.”
With Coffey’s metaphorical reminder on the wall, Camden
County rebounded to earn a 10-2 record, reaching the second
round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs for the second time in
Coffey’s three seasons as Wildcats head coach.
Continuing to buck the trend of spread offenses, Camden
County’s Wing-T accounted for 250 yards of offense per game
and 49 touchdowns. Coffey’s team lost only to eventual state
champions Colquitt County in the regular season, and state
runners-up Roswell in the playoffs.
Keeping egos in check, Coffey said, was crucial to maintain-
The Wildcats won three state titles from under longtime
ing a team-first mindset. Or, as he puts it: ”Don’t complain, get
the freaking job done,” said Coffey. “That’s a wonderful thing.”
Bolstered by an emotional win over region rival Valdosta, in
a game that featured heavy rain, Coffey said his team reached
a turning point and developed a “yeoman’s attitude” to getting
the job done as a unit. And with his team back on the same
page for 2016, Coffey said the conversation can revert back to
bringing state championships back to Kingsland.
coach Jeff Herron, giving the community high expectations.
“It was more or less, ‘Here we go, let’s get back on track,’”
said Coffey. “That’s been the talk going into the offseason,
that’s the goal. Why are you doing this if that’s not what you
want? That’s not arrogance. Why do you have these camps at
110 degrees and get up at 6 a.m. each morning. You have to
make a decision to play hard.”
They Call Me Coach
GET TO KNOW FOUR OF THE STATE’S
MOST RESPECTED COACHES
BY DAVID THACKHAM