COVINGTON, Ga. -- During a recent program at the Newton County Kiwanis Club designed to preview the football season, a question from the audience was directed at the each of the three Newton County coaches.
“Do you guys have quarterbacks who can read defenses and make the plays to win you a game?”
When it was Eastside coach Troy Hoff’s time to answer, he cut straight to the chase.
“Short answer, yes we do,” Hoff said. “He can make the reads. He can make the throws. He can make the plays. Now we just need to see if he can do it consistently when the lights are on and in those big moments when we really need it.”
Hoff was speaking of junior quarterback Noah Cook.
Last year the 5-foot-11, 180-pound signal caller’s ascension to the starting quarterback spot was a bit of a shocker — at least for those outside the Eastside football program. For the coaches like Hoff and offensive coordinator Jay Cawthon, there was nothing surprising about it.
“We knew he had the ability and could give us what we need at that position, even as we were preparing Brayden Harper to be our starter,” Cawthon said last year about a week before Cook drew the start against Luella in the 2017 season opener.
In that game, Cook was an impressive 10-of-14 passing with 166 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions while helping Eastside to an impressive 50-6 win in a game that was also the Eagles’ region opener.
Cook’s fate took a quick turn the other way six days later.
After starting the game 4 for 9 with 17 yards against in-county rival Newton, Cook took a nasty hit from a Rams linebacker who came free through the heart of Eastside’s line. He drove Cook into the ground causing the sophomore to sustain a broken collarbone.
It sidelined him until October when he came back to a 121-yard, two touchdown performance against Henry County. But he also threw a pair of picks. Down the stretch of the season, Eastside chose opt for Harper for his run-pass threat. Cook continued to heal and learn from the sidelines.
But now, less than a week before the Eagles kick off the 2018 season at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at Sharp Stadium against the same Newton team that sidelined him, there will be no surprises from anyone about Cook’s presence as the starter. And Cook has no doubt in his ability to carry the offensive load on his shoulders.
“I definitely feel like I’ve learned from last year’s experiences,” Cook said. “It was tough not being able to be out there to help my team during that time, but I used that time to get bigger, faster and stronger and just become a smarter quarterback.”
During the times when Cook was in the lineup last year, he showed the kind of poise needed for his position, and perhaps a little bit uncommon for a player so young. But during the spring and summer, Cook showed off a noticeably bigger body and a cannon of an arm.
He also displayed more of a willingness to tuck and run with the ball — a traditional staple in the Eastside offensive attack over the last several years.
“It’s just been a matter of getting more comfortable with the offense in general,” he said. “I also feel like my body’s more prepared to take on the contact from playing quarterback.”
And although Hoff answered that Kiwanis club question about his quarterback with a bit of a wait-and-see tone, he also said, in another place, that he had no questions about Cook’s ability to be what they need him to be in this offense — perhaps for the next two years.
“One thing we know about him is that not only can he make all the throws, but he’s also a big time competitor,” Hoff said. “He’s definitely gotten stronger. We’ve worked on the physicality aspect of things. Of course there’s going to be more room to grow, but we definitely feel confident in his ability to be what we need him to be.”
Cook finished the 2017 season with 407 yards passing, four touchdowns and three interceptions while appearing in six games. This year, he’ll operate behind a retooled offensive line that will be a bit smaller than last year’s (thanks to the graduation of LaMarius Benson and Spurgeon Gaither), but Cook also believes he’s got enough supporting cast around him to make up for the losses.
“Having running backs like TC (Taylor Carter) and Quincy (Cullins, Jr.) definitely make things easier,” Cook said. “And we definitely believe in our line. With our offense we run with a lot of pace and quickness, and even though those guys may be a bit smaller, we know they’ll be able to get the job done.”
With Eric Stokes
For the first time in six years, in-county rivalries are fully back in Newton County, thanks to Alcovy and Newton playing each other in the regular season. While we are excited for the memories this year’s rivalry matchups are sure to create, sportswriter Matthew Grimes took some time to reminisce on some rivalry memories of the past with former Eastside star, and current Georgia Bulldog, Eric Stokes.
Matthew Grimes: Who did you consider to be your biggest rival during your years at Eastside?
Eric Stokes: “Easily Newton. Newton was the big bad school that thought they ran the county since they had the name of the county. They always looked at us like we were little ole Eastside and we had a lot to prove to them.”
MG: Describe your most memorable experience during a rivalry game.
ES: “Had to be my senior year against Newton. The game ended in a tie because their coach didn’t want to go into overtime. That was the first time since my freshman year that we actually played a full game against them that wasn’t a scrimmage.”
MG: “What do you think is the driving force behind these in-county rivalries?”
ES: “I think it’s because everyone wants to show people who really runs the county that year. It gives you bragging rights that year and you will never forget it.”