The beginning of the new school year is just weeks away, and we all know what that means: Friday night football is on the horizon.
For Eastside High School and head football coach Rick Hurst, football has been relevant since school got out. Throughout the summer, the Eagles have been practicing and participating in a passing league in Gwinnett County.
“Right now we’ve been focusing primarily on our pass routes and reads and coverages defensively, drops and things like that from linebackers,” Hurst said. “Just basic stuff. Just making sure we’re in the right place at the right time and working on fundamentals versus the pass and in our passing offense.”
This will be a transition year for Hurst. He’s not losing a lot of seniors, but he will be having a lot of young players suit-up this year.
“We’re young, we’re extremely young. We’re going to be playing a lot of sophomores on both sides of the football, and those guys have to grow up in a hurry,” Hurst said. “Some of them played last year as freshmen due to injury and they’re just good players. They were good enough to be able to play on Friday. Now should they have? No. But we had a small senior class and it enabled us to get some freshmen some playing time. A few of them had multiple games of starts and full games of playing. Some of the sophomores, it’s not going to be their first time in the fire, but for a lot of them it is.”
“We’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but I know they’ve got a lot of fight in them,” Hurst added. “As long as we keep improving week-in and week-out, by the end of the season we’re going to have a chance.This is a rebuilding year for us – there’s no doubt about it. If we got to take some lumps, then we’ll take them, but the next two years we ought to be really good.”
The Eagles have been practicing mostly in shorts, and according to Hurst he hasn’t been able to focus on the running game much offensively or defensively, but he said that should change next week. Because it’s the summer, Hurst said the only issue he’s run into is players splitting their time between football and other sports.
Starting quarterback Austin Holloway has been MIA most of the summer, as he’s trying out for the USA baseball national team in West Palm Beach, Florida. Holloway is a huge baseball player, but he’s also the football team’s starting quarterback.
Hurst said that he never would keep a kid from playing something he enjoys, despite them missing time from football.
“As a coach, once you start saying ‘you gotta play one sport’ it hurts the kid,” Hurst said. “You look at most of your pro-basketball players, pro-baseball players, pro-football players, and all of them played more than one sport.”
“I know these kids love to play football, but they also love to do other things. We try and share them as much as we can. Most of the time after the Fourth of July pretty much everybody is here.”
Holloway tried out for the national team last year as well. He was one of the final 40 players to at tryouts.
“He made the final 40, but when they took it down to 20 players he didn’t make the final cut,” Hurst said. “If he makes the final cut of 20 [this year] then he’ll miss the first week of school, but he’ll be back in time for the scrimmage against Newton and obviously for the season. He’s a great baseball player, he’s a great football player and we’re just very excited for him. We hope he makes it.”
“I can’t say enough about him and how he’s divided his time among both sports. He never stops working and that’s why he’s a heck of a ball player in both football and baseball.”
Hurst said that Holloway will be coming home Sunday and he will know if he makes the team or not before he gets back. If he does make the team, Holloway will have a week off before he has to leave again.
When Holloway comes back he’ll have some new faces to get used to, as Hurst has made some significant changes to his coaching staff.
Bailey, a former Eagle who played wide receiver before getting a full-scholarship to play for Piedmont College, will be the Eagles’ new tight ends coach.
“Anderico graduated in ‘08. He was a freshman my first year at Eastside,” Hurst said. “He was one of those guys that helped turn this thing around and got us going in the right direction. He went off to a career with Presbyterian and now he’s back and I’m really, really excited about having him on the staff.”
Hurst said that Bailey will also be working with the O-Line and the receivers some, but mainly the tight ends.
“Anderico is a hardworker, just a great work ethic that I know our guys will definitely enjoy. He’s got a great personality, he gets along great with all the guys on our staff as well as our players,” Hurst said. “They’re just really going to have a good relationship, because he is young and he can relate. There are a lot of our guys that see themselves playing at the next level, but sometimes they don’t want to work and do the things that it takes to get there. Having that guy around, he’s got a fresh perspective and that gives them a person they can look up to and understand what it takes to get to a very high level and play this game.”
Jordan will be the new running backs coach. He previously coached at Newton for a few years before coaching at MLK. He’ll be teaching at Indian Creek, but coaching at Eastside.
“A super guy, a loyal guy. I tried to get him a few years ago to leave over there and come over with us, because his wife works at Eastside and I’ve always thought a lot of his wife and when I met him a few times I was real impressed with him,” Hurst said.
“I actually sent him a couple messages, emails and said, ‘Look, I’d love to get you on our staff if you’re willing to make that jump,’ and he said, ‘Coach, for right now I think I just want to stay here. And that just showed me the loyalty, that’s a big thing for me and it’s a big thing in coaching,” Hurst said. “You gotta have guys that are loyal and believe in the same things you believe in. I’ve seen [him on the field] for two or three weeks and our kids respond to him very well. He’s got a good mind, he knows the game and he’s very familiar with the running back position and our schemes.
Hurst said that when Jordan was at his previous school they did some of the same things that Eastside does as far as the offense is concerned, with both teams running the spread.
“It’s not going to be a huge learning curve for him in terms of changes in offense. Obviously the language and the verbiage will change for him, but some of the schemes and things that we do are very similar,” Hurst said.
Troy Hoff & John Mannino
Although these two aren’t new faces to the Eagles, they will be taking on new positions within the coaching staff. Hoff is the assistant head coach and after coaching running backs for nine years, he will now coach the offensive line.
According to Hurst, Hoff pretty much came up to Hurst and said he’d like to do it.
“Kind of hard to find guys that want to coach those hogs, especially when they didn’t play [offensive line]. He played running back in college,” Hurst said. “He coached running backs for many years, nine years here and then made the move over to the offensive line. It was a great thing for him, and I think he needed a change of scenery. All coaches like that after a while. He’s done a fantastic job with our offensive line – they’re really responding really well to him. I think we’re going to be better up there for that move.”
Mannino was a talented player himself in college; he was a defensive lineman for Appalachian State in his heyday.
“I’m just really excited about having those two in those two positions,” Hurst said. “We had two coaches there that left and been there in those two positions for quite some time. These guys stepped up. Coach Mannino actually played defensive line at Appalachian State. He was an all-conference player so it’s a natural fit for him.”