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Lanier understands challenge of moving to AAAAA

POSTED: July 9, 2014 12:00 p.m.

For a team in just their third season of full varsity football, the Lanier Longhorns have undergone some significant changes in such a short amount of time.

After having earned their first varsity football win in Sept. 2011 and going 3-1 in a four-game season, the Longhorns entered Region 8-AAAA in 2012 to neither blaring success nor glaring defeat going 5-5 and 3-4 in the region. Then, in the course of just one year, Lanier exploded onto the scene to make their presence known in the landscape of GHSA football.

The Horns made their first playoff appearance after a stellar 2013 campaign (9-3, 5-2 Region 8-AAAA) in which their only losses were to playoff teams. Lanier lost to region champ and then-undefeated Monroe Area (11-1, 7-0 Region 8-AAAA) 56-28 before three weeks later dropping an epic two-overtime loss to Chestatee (9-3, 6-1 Region 8-AAAA) 20-17.

Lanier shocked home team Carver (7-4, 5-1 Region 6-AAAA Div. B) in a first-round playoff upset 26-7 before hosting and losing to the Class-AAAA Cinderella story Alexander Cougars (8-5, 4-3 Region 5-AAAA) 42-28. The fourth-seed Cougars would eventually lose in the quarterfinals, but only after upending two higher seeded opponents.

After the Lanier coming out party that was 2013’s football season, the Longhorns would then learn that they had to continue competing one region up as they were the only new member of Region 8-AAAAA. Instead of fretting over the move, though, Lanier took the change in stride as the next logical progression in their move from new team on the block to a true competitor at the highest level.

So if suddenly being seen as a legitimate threat on the football field and moving up to a new level of play were not big enough distractions to throw Lanier off track, how would they respond to the resignation of the only head coach the program had ever known?

On Monday afternoon, four-year head coach Billy Wells, who had been integral in building the program to its current prominence, announced that he was leaving Lanier to take the position as athletic director and assistant principal at North Hall High School.

Wells was a winning head football coach who spent two years at Collins Hill prior to his hiring on at Lanier and took teams to the playoffs in both seasons with the Eagles. Perhaps it was just expected, then, that he would be able to do the same with Lanier.

After achieving the unlikely dream of taking a young program to the postseason in as difficult a region as 8-AAAA, Wells decided it was time to pursue non-athletic career goals.

The Longhorns opted to keep everything in the family and promoted Mobbs, who was an assistant under the departed Wells, to the position of head coach.

Mobbs was initially hired to Lanier as the tennis coach as well as an assistant football coach, but now he has ascended to what many would consider to be the top job in scholastic coaching. 

While Mobbs is new to the position of head coach officially, he does have one impressive win under his belt already while at the helm of Lanier’s football team. During a game against fellow newcomer River Ridge, then chief Wells was ejected for excessively disagreeing with officials down 17-15. The Longhorns had just scored and were going for the two-point conversion when the referees threw a flag for delay of game. 

The referee ejected Wells, leaving Mobbs in charge. The acting head coach, suddenly thrust into the head position, helped rally the troops to a 35-17 victory after scoring 20 unanswered second half points.

The challenges awaiting Mobbs in his first season are obvious, though, as he has just less than two months to prepare his team for Class-AAAAA football.

The Longhorns have some exposure to the league, though, and have even developed something akin to a rivalry against one of Region 8-AAAAA’s tenured members. Over the past two seasons, Lanier and Apalachee have split a two-game series with the Wildcats winning the first 21-11 as their home and season opener in 2012 with Lanier returning the favor in 2013 in a 42-14 trouncing that signaled Lanier’s readiness to play.

The Horns and the Cats will renew the rivalry in the last regular season game of the year on Nov. 7.

That contest will come at the end of a grueling season for both teams, but the Longhorns especially who will open the region schedule at Clarke Central on Sep. 5 before hosting Flowery Branch on Sep. 12, both playoff teams from 2013.

From there, the Horns will move on to play two of the better teams that missed out in 2013 in Cedar Shoals and Loganville back-to-back weeks, both with new coaches. After their bye week in early October, Lanier has the unenviable task of hosting Gainesville and travelling to Heritage for the conclusion of a series that will likely determine who ends up in the playoffs and who regrets the Longhorns’ promotion more: them or their newfound opponents.

Mobbs will have some considerable help leading the Longhorns in 2014 as he brings with him Division I talent at running back and a quarterback competition between a rising senior with 1,286 yards passing and 16 touchdowns and a junior who could be even better.

Lanier running back Tario Fuller has already committed to Purdue as Gwinnett’s second-leading rusher in 2013 with 1,590 yards and 20 touchdowns. At quarterback, he might be taking snaps from either returning starter Canyon Cook, who was 88-161-8 last season, or Tahj Tolbert who has apparently impressed the coaches enough to question who should lead the team.

A pair of granite boulders on the line in Taylor Barber and Travis Taylor should provide the offense with both time and running room to boot.

While Lanier’s seemingly overnight rise to prominence may surprise some, the Longhorns are simply following the example of those brave Gwinnett schools that have also started from humble beginnings and risen to greatness.

The prime example of such ascendancy is Peachtree Ridge. The Lions, in just their fourth full season of varsity football, won a share of the Class-AAAAA state championship in a 14-14 tie with Roswell. Despite winning just two games in their first two seasons, the Lions improved to 6-4 in their third season in the fall of 2005.

Peachtree Ridge then started 2006 4-3 before rattling off seven consecutive wins, including four straight away from home against higher-seeded opponents. 

Mill Creek opened a year after Peachtree Ridge and played through three straight losing seasons before finally capturing a playoff bid in 2007 and winning records in every year since 2007 except for two. Those two years saw the Hawks finish 5-5. 

Most recently, the Archer Tigers, entering just their sixth season of football and fifth season of a complete varsity schedule, have already seen postseason action twice. The 2013 Archer team finished the regular season undefeated 10-0.

Thus, Lanier seems to be falling right in line with what is expected of a burdgeoning Gwinnett football program. 

Lanier starts the season with a scrimmage at Dacula before opening the season in a real running of the bulls at the nearby Lambert Longhorns. After a gauntlet of a season serving as their introduction to Region 8-AAAAA, the Lanier Longhorns will close out the season by hosting Winder-Barrow on Halloween night and by travelling to Apalachee on Nov. 7.


 

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