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Raising the bar
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Last year, the slogan for the Eastside Eagles football program was short and to the point: "Compete."

They did.

In fact, the Eagles won five games last season - five more than they had won during the previous two years, a stretch in which they had lost 20 consecutive games.

But this season is an entirely different story, and the secret is out: Eastside is good - real good.

So, it's fitting that Eastside head coach Rick Hurst created a new catchphrase for the 2007 Eagles: "Raise the bar."

Hurst took a timeout Friday afternoon during practice to discuss his thoughts on the '07 Eagles:

Question: Although it's still too early, how does the team look so far?

Answer: We had a good summer. I told them the other day that I (didn't) think it was a great summer - it wasn't as good as I had wanted. But we're hoping (tonight) will be lively.

Legally, the state of Georgia allows high school football teams to practice in full pads beginning Monday.

The Eagles will host "Midnight Madness" at 12:01 a.m. tonight at the Eastside High School practice field.

Well, we just get a 12-hour start on everybody else, so we go at 12:01 a.m. We know we'll have a pretty good crowd on hand, and our team is ready to take somebody to the ground and get after it. So, I think (tonight) we'll see a little bit different attitude.

With the season less than four weeks away, how excited are you right now?

I've thought about this year since November 10, 2006.

The date marked the end of the regular season for the Eagles, as they lost to Habersham Central, 31-14.

Trust me, when I say we didn't have the good summer, it (wasn't) that. It was just I felt like at times we had a little bit of cockiness about us earlier this summer. We went over to Georgia and we got our butts handed to us, and it was the best thing for us because after that we played lights out. If we do that - if we just keep our mind focused on what we (have) to do and play within our game and not kill ourselves with turnovers and penalties - then we've got a really good chance.

Have you set any team goals yet, and if so what do they include?

We've set those - our leadership council has set (them). I told them that by Monday they had to come up with five attainable goals that we felt like we could do.

The Eagles have a 15-player leadership council consisting of six seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.

What do you think will be the biggest adjustment for this particular team?

Well, I think the biggest adjustment for these kids is (that) they now have expectations - people in our community expect them to do well because we had a good year. We've got most of our players back, so we're expected to do something, which (we) haven't had here in a while.

But that's good because that was a goal I had when I came here - to make this place respectable and to bring respect to this football program. I think we've done that, but we're still not where we want to be.

Last year, you beat crosstown rival Newton, 21-20, which set the tone for your Eagles. How important will the first game of the season be against the Rams?

(Pauses) You know, last year was magical because it was my first win, and these guys did everything. I felt like they played their butts off, not just for (themselves) but they played for this coaching staff, and that meant a lot to me.

But this year I think our kids understand finally that this (game) is not the world. It means a lot because it's our first game, and that's going to be our goal - to win each game every week, but not to look past that.

We want to make sure we're ready for Newton, but we don't want to get overwhelmed by it. We need to know that we have nine games left and we've got to win those because those are the ones that really, really count. We don't want our kids to throw everything out the window if something happens; it's not in our favor.

Eastside lost to Newton in the '05 season-opener, 27-20.

Last year, we won and I felt like it boosted us into a good year. Hopefully, we'll be able to come out on top again this year, but it's going to be a battle against Newton.

What are your biggest concerns, if any, entering this season?

It's how we handle expectation; I really believe that. How we handle being in the spotlight...being that we (have) the accolades, that we have the region players, and that we did this and we did that. But we have to put that aside, know that it was last year (and) that it's time to move on and see what we can do this year.

Did you lose many players, and if so how confident are you regarding this specific group of athletes?

You know, we did lose some key players. But last year we were able to get some young kids in the game and play them early, and that's helped us.

The Eastside senior class has played together since they were sophomores.

That's a huge deal; I think overall our team is better from a physical standpoint - it's the mental aspect that I'm concerned about right now.

Despite the primary focus on the team, how important are the other programs that help raise enthusiasm regarding Eastside football?

Well, Alan Fowler (band director) does a tremendous job with our band. He lets us use his practice field a couple days a week. Our cheerleading sponsor, Lyn Lindsey (cheerleading head coach), does an excellent job as far as getting the kids' spirit going during the week of the game.

It's a whole unit, like a football team, and I can't do it alone. It takes the assistant coaches, players, managers and everybody, and the same thing with our school and the spirit. Everybody is involved, and I think our principal (Dr. Robert Daria) has brought it back to Eastside, as far as the spirit of the school and taking pride in it. It's just a collective effort to make it work.

Look for more on Hurst and the Eagles in The Covington News 2007 Football Preview due out August 29 on newsstands, which showcases Alcovy, Eastside and Newton.