In what feels like it took an eternity to come around, the high school football season has finally kicked off with schools all across Georgia competing in scrimmage games during this last week before the regular season begins.
One squad that posed a lot of questions entering its scrimmage game against Walnut Grove was the Eastside Eagles — a team that lost many seniors on both sides of the ball, including their three-year starting quarterback Austin Holloway, star receiver in Josh Sims, solid linebacker Garrett Stevens and one of the best all around athletes in the state in Eric Stokes.
However, some of these questions began to get answered in the Eagles’ scrimmage matchup with Walnut Grove this past Friday.
The varsity played to a 7-7 tie in the first half before giving way to the JV squads in the second half. Here are five things we learned about Eastside during the small sized sample.
1. Brayden Harper can move on from a mistake with ease.
His first miscue came during the second quarter of play. Eastside began marching down the field, looking like the team destined to strike first. However, just inside the red zone, Harper threw a ball to his receiver near the sideline at the five-yard line. That ball was snatched away by a Walnut Grove defender and returned 95 yards to the opposite endzone.
Harper would shake it off quickly, and on the ensuing drive, he completed two passes for big gains before finding junior wideout Jamari Brown for a 12-yard score. If Harper can keep that short memory, the Eagles’ offensive leader could be primed for a big season.
2. The Eagles have a bonafide two-headed monster at running back — at least.
There are two names you either know right now, or you will find out about very soon if you watch the Eastside running game. Those two names are Tyon Davis and Taylor Carter. Carter, a junior who saw extensive playing time as a sophomore in 2016, will be joined by Davis who transferred from Rockdale after last year. Both men provide explosiveness to the offense, while lending their own unique attributes to a running game that could become a fixture in the Eagles attack if these two pound the rock like they did against Walnut Grove.
3. Despite the talent, the offense can and will improve.
Twenty-five seniors departed from last year’s squad, including some true heavy-hitters on offense, but there is still plenty of talent in the cupboard, despite the youth. Third-year head coach Troy Hoff noted that there is still some timing and execution issues he believes the team can improve on, and he hopes to see a dramatic improvement in the first few weeks of the season before region play begins. Expect the offense to become even stronger once they improve in those aspects.
4. The offense will be great, but the defense could potentially be even better.
So what if the defense lost multiple starters from last season? They looked like they didn’t miss a beat against the Warriors this past Friday. They did not allow a single offensive touchdown from Walnut Grove while also not surrendering any long, methodical drives. Not only that, but the Eagles were swarming on just about every play. They disrupted the passing game on multiple occasions with relentless front seven pressure that resulted in several quarterback sacks as well as stuffing the run several times. If they continue to get five to six hats to the football on each play, it will be hard for opposing offenses to muster much production.
5. The future is bright for this young team, but so is the present.
Let’s be clear here. As previously stated, this Eagles team is young. Despite that, this season should not be rebranded as a “rebuilding” one. Yes, many of the players are new to taking varsity snaps, and while the experience they receive this season will benefit the team overall in the future, this team still has the overall talent and potential to make the playoffs, and make some noise as well. Don’t be surprised to see the Eagles compete in their region and, depending on things go, push No. 5 Woodward in Region 4-AAAA.