"We are young" isn’t just a song by indie pop group Fun, it’s also the theme for both Eastside and Alcovy’s football teams this season.
With their upcoming matchup tonight at Sharp Stadium, both teams have a young nucleus with a bright future, but it remains to be seen which is the better inexperienced team right now.
Of the Eagles’ 96 players, almost 40 of them are sophomores and head coach Rick Hurst expects the bulk of his starters to come from that sophomore class.
“I love this group as a whole. They’re one of the best groups we’ve had. Especially our sophomore class because they’re really mature for their age. Not in football years but in just life years. That’s the good thing about them,” Hurst said.
“When you expect a 14 year old to go out there against a 17 and 18 year old, you’re not gonna get the results you want.”
Tigers’ coach Kirk Hoffman has a small senior class of only nine players, and expects to play a lot of his freshmen — which he says is the best he’s ever coached athletically. Hoffman says the leadership of senior D’Anthony Bell will be key.
“This young man’s (Bell) a true testimony to what an athlete is,” Hoffman said. “He had total knee surgery as a tenth grader. Because of the efforts of Newton County Board of Education bringing in athletic trainers into our facilities. This young man instead of being out his whole junior year, through that effort with our athletic trainer was able to come back by September of last year. You’ll see good things from him, he’ll play at the next level.”
“We’ve got leadership, so we just gotta find a way for the young and the leadership to come together.”
Hurst’s senior class isn’t small like Alcovy’s but they are inexperienced, a factor that will contribute greatly to the number of mistakes and missed assignments made in the game.
“They’re (his seniors) just really inexperienced. There’s only about four in that class out of 21 that have played a lot of football in their career at Eastside. So a lot of them are going to be thrown into the mix tomorrow night for the first time in a varsity contest,” Hurst said. “Yes they are 17/18 (years old) but when it comes to football maturity they’re about 14 or 15. It’s like playing more sophomores, except they’re just a little bit older in terms of years.”
Hoffman added that this season will be a week to week process for his team.
“We’re grading our kids week by week,” Hoffman said. “Are we better today than we were yesterday? Success is being better today than I was yesterday.”
For Hurst it’s about taking baby steps, he says as a coach, you can’t assume the players know what he knows.
“The direction we’re going is we just wanna go out every friday night and make the best of the opportunity that we’re given,” Hurst said. “Our motto this year has been don’t quit and I think that’s very appropriate for what we may face throughout the year.”
“We’re young. I have no idea how this season is going to turn out.”
It isn’t all youth and inexperience for both teams however, the Eagles have sophomore quarterback Austin Holloway and the Tigers have junior quarterback Bubba Hickson. Both Hickson and Holloway are poised to be the catalysts for their team’s offense going into the game. It’ll be up to the opposing defenses to stop them.
“You just gotta hope the kids play disciplined football, and that’s what concerns us,” Hoffman said. “When you’re young, the kids are gonna run and play hard, but are they gonna run to the right gap? And are they gonna be where they’re supposed to be on every down? We gotta find a way to be very disciplined on defense.”
“You go back and look at film, you stop the run and you’re gonna let Holloway beat you over the top. If you sit back and defend that they’re gonna beat [you with] the run. I think our goal going into this Friday is to get better and make sure we become a disciplined football team defensively.
When asked how he expects to use Hickson as a weapon, Hoffman said, “You just gotta use him and the right time and play to his strength. He throws a good ball, but he also leads on that offense pretty well, and we gotta put him in some leadership positions.”