It’s not difficult for a high school football coach and everyone around his program to be extremely excited when you have the highest-profile player in your program’s history returning after a prolific season.

That is the envious position Hebron Christian coach Jeff Saturday and his program find themselves with quarterback Colten Gauthier back after a season in which he finished third in Gwinnett County with 2,088 yards and 19 touchdowns on 145-of-259 passing in helping the Lions to their first state playoff game win in school history.

Of course, the challenge the 6-foot-3, 190-pound rising junior faces this summer as he and his teammates prepare for the upcoming 2019 season is to try to follow up on that success, which has already earned him scholarship offers from numerous power-five FBS college programs.

But Saturday likes what he’s seen so far from Gauthier in trying to meet that challenge.

“I think Colten’s done a fantastic job,” Saturday said. “Obviously coming over as a sophomore in a new school and new program (last year), he really made an impact on our team. … From a mental perspective, we threw a lot at him, and he just absorbed it and really excelled in his game.

“I think as (college) coaches began to watch him and his development and progression, he just continues to get better. And he’s one of those kids who just works his tail off. He’s constantly working on his craft and loves the game and studies the game. So as coaches began to recruit him, I think they realized kind of what we’d already seen. … He’s going to be a great player for us and we’re excited to build our team around him.”

The flip side, of course, is that there is a little less certainty among the player who will make up that building process around Gauthier after three of his top four-leading receivers from last year — Saturday’s son and incoming North Carolina freshman Jeffrey Saturday and Will Warbington to graduation and Logan Johnson as a transfer to Prince Avenue Christian.

But after seeing the work Gauthier has put in with several different receivers vying to join fellow rising junior Justin Peavy, the Lions leading returning receiver, to rebuild the receiving corps, and more importantly, the chemistry they’ve built in summer 7-on-7 competition, Saturday feels a lot better about that task.

Alex Pawson, who dominated at defensive end, and Jaiden Stowers figure to make much bigger contributions in 2019, and combined with Peavy’s experience, Saturday has liked the early signs he’s seen from the passing game.

“Justin Peavy, man, we’re really excited about his development,” Saturday said. “He’s really come out and played really, really well (in 7-on-7s). … We have plenty of guys who can go in and really help contribute (and who) have been here and made some big plays for us. So we’re excited about all the guys we’ve got around (Gauthier) and what they can do with the ball in their hands.

“(This summer) has been huge. I’ve also got a new offensive coordinator (in former Mill Creek quarterback) John Russ. … So I think it’s been really important this summer for their development, for what all these guys are doing — all the 7-on-7 camps that we’ve played. We had a great tournament early in June at Athens Academy in which we made the Final Four. We ended up losing to Archer, but that was the only game we ended up losing. So I was really excited about how these guys jelled together, really pushed it together, and they’re really working. That’s the one thing I do appreciate about 7-on-7 is it gives these guys a chance to work on their timing, work on all the different route combinations so that they know when it gets to the season, all the language, all the mark points … they’ve got all those details worked out. That’s been very vital for us.”

That also brings a lot of Hebron’s summer goals back to Gauthier, who Saturday says has not let all his success from last season, and the attention it’s brought from college programs, go to his head.

Instead, he has maintained his position alongside other veteran players like Landon Simpson, Winston Gassant, Brennan Myers, Michael Hilliard and Jack Ihm as the head of the Lions’ leadership corps and setting a positive example for his teammates.

“That’s probably one of the things you like about him when you see him,” Saturday said of Gauthier. “As much as he has improved and as much attention as he’s gotten form the individual perspective, he’s worked on helping all of his teammates. Whether it’s in their recruiting or development, he’s done an awesome job or really taking a leadership role and encouraging guys to be their best.

“He’s the biggest recruit we’ve ever had at Hebron, and it’s not even close … But you would never know that by the way you see him work on the field. He doesn’t sit around and brag about it. He just goes about his business, and whatever he can do to help his teammates and encourage them, … he’s constantly doing that. And that’s why he’s really a leader on our football team.”

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.