GHS looks to build on 2021 success

Gainesville football coach Dock Pollard (grey shirt) and John Cooper (9)
Gainesville High's Dock Pollard (in long-sleeved shirt) returns for his third season as head coach along with running back John Cooper (9), who rushed for 536 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. (Photos by C.J. Gish)

Officially, Gainesville football coach Dock Pollard is entering his third year as the head coach, but he really doesn’t consider the 2020 COVID season his first year at the helm.

The Hurricanes only went 2-4 in 2020 and missed an entire month of games during the pandemic-riddled season. 

Gainesville football John Cooper
Photo by Megan Winslow John Cooper

But 2021 was a complete turnaround in Pollard’s first “full” year as GHS head man. The Hurricanes finished 8-3 and a perfect 4-0 record in District 4-6A, and a 17-14 win at St. Augustine earned Gainesville its first district title in seven years. 

While the season ended in the opening round of the 6A playoffs 34-7 to Lincoln (Tallahassee), 2021 was definitely a success for Gainesville football. 

“Last year was a great achievement,” Pollard said. “To come off a year before that with so much uncertainty and there were so many dark clouds, not just in football but life. That group, they showed a lot of heart and a lot of character to rebound from that COVID year and create a buzz around Gainesville football again.”

Gainesville will have to replace last year’s starting quarterback Shooby Coleman, who transferred to Williston. Coleman threw for 649 yards with 10 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. 

Enter Mason Zwilling, a sophomore transfer from Eastside who is expected to start in the first game.

“To go from never taking a varsity snap to starting, it’s exciting but nerve wracking,” Zwilling said. “We have a great group of running backs, receivers, and offensive line so that will help. “

Gainesville football Mason Zwilling
Photo by Megan Winslow Mason Zwilling

Sophomore Taylor Richardson, a Mainstreet 2021 All Area honorable mention selection, and senior Jalen Sessions anchor the Hurricanes’ offensive line. 

Also heading off to Williston for his senior year is running back Kyree Edwards. Edwards led Gainesville with 891 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

But the explosive John Cooper returns his senior year and was selected as a Mainstreet 2021 All Area honorable mention. He rushed for 536 yards at eight yards per carry and six touchdowns with a long carry of 94 yards. 

“Cooper was our second leading rusher but he led the team in yards per carry,” Pollard said. 

Cooper also doesn’t want to hear about players who aren’t with Gainesville anymore. 

“The quarterback we have now is doing perfect, he’s leading everybody and motivating people,” Cooper said. “As far as the running backs, to be honest, I haven’t been worried about that, just worried about winning games and going farther in the playoffs.”

Freshman Caleb Young will join Cooper in the backfield. 

Gainesville football Taylor Richardson
Photo by Megan Winslow Taylor Richardson

Gainesville lost their four top receivers from a year ago.  

The Hurricanes’ defense carried them to a couple of early wins last season, 14-6 over Bishop Moore (Orlando) and 7-3 at Trinity Catholic (Ocala).  The defense also came up big in the win over St. Augustine, keeping the Yellow Jackets out of the end zone in the first half. 

The defensive line will look a lot like the offensive line with Richardson and Sessions leading the way.  Young will also step in on the defensive side as well. 

Pollard says with all the youth it’s going to be a challenge, but that’s nothing new. 

“It’s a challenge, but every year is a challenge,” Pollard said. “We are only in year two and a half basically, so we are at a different time in our growing as a program.”

The season starts with Vanguard, one of the premier programs in the region, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 26, at Citizens Field. 

“It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s why we play and that’s what makes it fun,” said Pollard. 

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