Rising senior Josh Downs is one of several returning players that North Gwinnett coach Bill Stewart will count on for leadership as the Bulldogs try to build team chemistry during a team camp at the University of West Georgia this week in preparation for the upcoming 2019 season.

Coming out of the Georgia High School Association’s “dead week,” many different high school football team throughout Gwinnett County and the rest of the state find themselves shifting focus.

And North Gwinnett is no different.

After spending a good deal of the summer with most of the focus on 7-on-7 work in the passing game on offense and the defensive secondary, the Bulldogs will have a more total team focus beginning Monday, when they head off to a team camp at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.

But when they get there, the focus will go beyond even building the team in terms of Xs and Os that go into the team’s performance on the field, according to head coach Bill Stewart.

“The month of June is kind of fluid with the 7-on-7 season,” Stewart said. “We’re going to team camp Monday, the FCA West Georgia team camp. This is were were really start getting into 11-on-11 stuff. So really, the month of June is really the 7–on-7s, and you’re really just kind of doing a lot of pass work and coverage and things like that. This (month), you do a lot more team stuff. And also, our time together as a team is a big deal … in terms of getting to know each other.”

That last part — the Bulldogs getting to know each other and building team chemistry — is perhaps at its most crucial state with the official beginning of preseason practice for the 2019 campaign set to begin in about two weeks.

So Stewart will look to several of his experienced veterans to help forge a stronger bond between the other experienced returning players and newcomers looking to fill openings at other key positions.

Fortunately for him, he has plenty of to former to help lead that effort, including returning starting quarterback J.R. Martin, last year’s leading receiver Josh Downs and major college prospect defensive end Jared Ivey, and more, who can lead by the example they set both on and off the field.

“For us, having (J.R. Marrtin) back and the crew of receivers, and we’ve got Devin Crosby back at running back, then you’ve got Josh Downs at receiver, and I think he’s one of the best in the state,” Stewart said. “You combine him with the other guys that are coming back, and it’s a good group. You’ve got a lot of guys (for the less experienced players) to learn from.”

Perhaps the area that will Stewart and his staff may have their eyes on closest this week in Carrollton is the offensive line, where three multiple-year starters in third-team All-County selection Justin Bullock, T.J. Skinner and Will Hamilton were lost to graduation.

But two starters do return in rising seniors Wright Deas and Eugene Kim, while fellow rising senior Spencer Moore also saw action, and Stewart is counting on that trio to form the foundation as the Bulldogs move other players around to try to build the strongest, most cohesive line.

That task could also foreshadow how the rest of the team will built.

“Yeah, we’ll be breaking in some new guys (on the line),” Stewart said. “We had three seniors off of that offensive line last year (who graduated) that were really good players for us that were with us the last two years, kind of core guys. But we’ve got Wright Deas back and Eugene Kim and Spencer Moore. … They’re up to speed on what we’re doing.

“The guys that are slated in there, we had one guy who wasn’t a lineman last year who’s definitely getting some work, and that’s Malik Kimble. We moved him from tight end and fullback from last year to tackle, and he’s gotten a lot bigger and stronger.”

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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.