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Eagles enter season full of questions
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Eastside’s football team has experienced tremendous success this year. While that’s great, the basketball team will take a hit.

Three of head coach Michael Gerald’s key players won’t be a part of the Eagles’ basketball team in 2008-09 partly due to football commitments.

Antarius Terrell, a key contributor last year, Andrico Bailey and Jacorey Maddox have all forgone their senior seasons in order to focus on possibly playing football in college. So where does that leave Gerald? That’s a good question.

"This class should have been a larger class but we had some kids that their primary focus was football," Gerald said. "We’re losing four kids that played for us last year. They were more of role players so we are going to have to fill those holes."

The Eagles opened last season 5-1, but won just three games over their final 14 games. The good start proves the Eagles can compete, but Gerald is cautiously optimistic about the season because he doesn’t yet know what he has from several of his players.

"I thought we got off to a pretty good start," Gerald said about last season. "We were playing pretty well but I think we had some games that I think we should have won if we’d played better. We didn’t. Our primary focus is to win those games that are in our region. We want to beat everybody, but you need to do well within your region."

Cameron Robinson and Rashad Hill are known commodities. Each player contributed significantly last year and should be better in 2008-09. Both players have been in Gerald’s system for at least two years and he said they will be the primary threats on offense.

Hill’s speed and quickness will help break down opposing pressure and his senior leadership will key the Eagles offense. In fact, just about the whole team is comprised of seniors – six in all.

Neal Latimore will offer scoring help as well. In his fourth year with the team, Latimore filled it up at times last year and Gerald said he’ll be leaning on all three of his main guys coming back.

"We’re really looking for a big year out of those three guys," he said. "They’ve been around for a while now and we know what we have with them."

Eastside played in Region 8-AAAA last season. Every team in the region was competitive and wins were hard to come by.

The Eagles struggled at times to score last year and leading scorer Artis Clanton graduated. Gerald is going to rely on more than one player to pick up the scoring load and said this year, he hopes to be more balanced than in years past.

"We are hoping that everyone contributes," he said. "I say that every year, but we worked pretty hard in the off season. We are just trying to not be that one team that relies on one guy scoring. We have a hard time scoring and we can’t focus on one guy carrying the load for us."

The Eagles have several newcomers including junior transfer Zach Johnston who has helped the football team find success this year. While Gerald has heard good things about Johnston, he has yet to see him play as the Eagles are still in the playoffs.

The Eagles had trouble defending the press at times and teams with good big men hurt them as evident in the late season matchup with Salem and then senior Zach Rodenberry. This year, the Eagles will look to play together and help each other on defense and rebounding.

"I hope our defense is better than it was last year," Gerald said. "We are definitely going to be smaller than we were last year so we will have to play more team defense and I’d like to pick up the pressure, but we will probably be more of a half court defensive team. On offense, we need to take better shots."

Gerald prefers to play man-to-man defense as he said that’s what players play at the next level. But most teams rely on zone to spread the floor. He hopes to keep with a man philosophy but ultimately said the game situation will dictate what he does.

Gerald is familiar with Region 8-AAA as he was around when Eastside previously competed in Class AAA. The region is top heavy with Hart County, Elbert County and Franklin County, but he believes the fourth spot is wide open and he feels like his team has as good a shot as any.

"The last spot is open for everyone, but I hope that we can finish in the top four," he said. "We are going to try and win as many games as we can and I think we have a good shot.

"We have two kids that were on the last team that went to the state playoffs the last time we made it and I’d like to get those kids back there. We’d like to not just make it to state, but do some damage once we get there. The bar has been set by how well the fall teams have done and I want to keep it going."