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Posted: October 29, 2013 9:00 p.m.

Hurst credits staff for success

Anthony Banks/

Eastside head coach Rick Hurst captured his 58th career victory with the Eagles on Oct. 18 over Lumpkin County, making him the winningest coach in Newton County history. Hurst said his coaching staff has been a huge part of his success.

Two weeks ago, Eastside football coach Rick Hurst set a special milestone not only in Eastside history, but in Newton County lore.

Hurst and the Eagles captured their 58th victory with Hurst leading the helm, surpassing former Newton High coach Milton McLaney for most head football coaching victories at a Newton County school.

For Hurst, the occasion happened with little notice or fanfare, but that's the way the Eagles' leader wanted it, saying that the landmark moment was more a celebration of his staff than of his individual coaching.

"It’s a nice honor," Hurst said. "I had no idea. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t want it to distract from anything. I kind of kept it under wraps; I didn’t tell anyone, even my wife. I think it says that our staff has been able to establish a mark of success for a number of years.

"Hopefully, everyone knows now who we are," he said. "That’s’ the goal we had when I came in here as a head coach; we wanted people to know who the Eagles were."

Hurst took over an Eastside program in 2005 that had lost 14 consecutive games. The Eagles went 0-10 in Hurst's first season, a season the first-year head coach did not take for granted.

"It was humbling," Hurst said. "This game can humble anybody in a quick way. I thought that (our staff) would come in here and we would turn it around that year. That didn’t happen. The losing was a culture and it had to be changed."

Alongside Hurst that season were coaches Troy Hoff, Frankey Iverson and Jay Cawthon. The three assistant coaches have been with Hurst since his first year at Eastside, with Cawthon leaving Central Gwinnett with Hurst, where the two were on the Black Knights' staff as assistant coaches.

While Hurst knew that his staff would work well together, he had no idea the success his team would have, capturing region titles in 2008 and 2009.

"I was fortunate to be able to hire an entire staff," Hurst said. "The Eastside administration was very encouraging and was real good about letting me bring in my coaches. Coach Jay was a no-brainer. We had worked for years prior to coming here. He’s from here and really helped me establish relationships in the community. Coach Iverson played for me at Americus, and I made one phone call. He was a graduate assistant at West Georgia at the time and he didn’t say anything but, ‘I’m there.’

"Coach Hoff was a freak circumstance," he said. "I’d advertised the job nationwide and we got a great response. I talked to him over the phone and he said he was from South Dakota. I thought, ‘What is he doing wanting to come to Georgia?’ He was a natural fit and he’s been great with us. It’s nice to be able to have guys that you trust. This job is getting bigger and bigger, and they work extremely hard every week. They take care of things that I don’t even think of. The kids and I can depend on them to put us in good situations every week. They are invaluable."

Cawthon, a Covington native, said that the pair's first year together was tough to swallow.

"He and I left Central Gwinnett after making the second round of the state playoffs,” Cawthon said. “We knew we had everyone coming back and that we were going to have a good team. We come down here and are winless and we start asking ourselves if we made the right decision. Central Gwinnett ends up making it to the quarterfinals that year. It was hard to watch, but we knew we had some talent and we were going to turn it around."

Cawthon said that after a decade, he and his fellow coaches remain with Hurst and the Eagles because of their relationship with their players and head coach.

"We work well together and the community has been supportive," he said. "The kids are great, and I truly believe that they believe in us and our system. It’s hard to come in and break a losing culture, but we were able to change how the kids thought about themselves and their football team. We’ve had some good players come through and work hard to help us gain this type of recognition."

With a win over Stephens County this week, Hurst and the Eagles can clinch their fifth playoff appearance in nine years.

"They've been a great staff," Hurst said. "I couldn't do it without them."

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