After an injury filled season last year, Eastside football is ready to tackle a fresh start in August.
“We had a really good summer,” said Eastside head football coach Troy Hoff, now entering his third year. “We got a lot of good work in. I’m very pleased with where we’re at now.”
Hoff has no special theme for this year’s season. However, he teaches his players to be “11 Strong”.
“We talk about being 11 strong, and that’s every player on the field and the 11 different aspects of our program,” he said. “And different units where, if we want to compete at a high level, then every game and every week and every practice we have to be at that 11 strong capacity. That’s been a major focus for us and that won’t change. It’s not just this year’s theme. It’ll always be.”
Last year the Eagles finished third in Region 4-AAAA, with a 7-3-1 overall record. Eastside lost a total of 25 seniors last year. Ten of those seniors have gone on to play various college sports, two of which will continue to play football.
“You know it’s disappointing in the fact that we played really good football (last season) but we had a lot of guys that weren’t able to finish the season because of injuries,” said Hoff. “You’re always disappointed in wins and losses, but disappointed that some of those kids didn’t get the opportunity to finish what they started. They went to work every week and played really good football.”
Some Eagles that will be continuing the Eastside football legacy as 2017 returners include: Brayden Harper (Quarterback), LaMarius Benson (Offensive Lineman), Jamari Brown (Receiver), Taylor Carter (Running back) and Gaither Spurgeon (Defensive Tackle).
Also aiding the Eagles, specifically Carter, will be the entrance of Rockdale transfers, Tyon Davis and Jordan Rogers. Their addition could give Eastside a potentially lethal, three-pronged running attack.
Harper, who is a two-year All-Region receiver will try his hand at starting quarterback this year. Brown will also be starting at a new position this year. Carter, a junior, is also all region.Benson is already committed to South Carolina.
“(Benson is) who we’ll build our offensive line around,” said Hoff. “He’s probably one of the best offensive linemen I’ve ever coached.”
The Eagles scrimmaged Walnut Grove on August 11. The regular season and home opener will be against Luella on August 19.
Hoff says the team has goals of winning a championship, but says they are also not looking too far ahead beyond the kind of work it will take to become that kind of team. They will take the season game by game.
“I’ve got a good staff that’s been working hard all summer and season and we’re looking forward to getting back on the field,” he said. “I think that’s the big thing when you get to this time of year, it’s so close and the kids are ready for the weather to cool down. It’s that time of year.”
EASTSIDE EAGLES RUNDOWN:
Returning Starters: OL/DL Lamarius Benson (SR), WR/DB Jamari Brown (JR), RB/DB Taylor Carter (JR), OL/DL Spurgeon Gaither (SR), QB Brayden Harper (SR), LB Jaylon Lackey (SR), LB Rico Ruffin (SR).
Key Departures: Eric Stokes, Austin Holloway, Josh Sims, Garrett Stevens, Davin Griffieth, Caleb Allen.
Key Newcomers: Transfers- RB Tyon Davis (SR) and RB Jordan Rogers (JR).
When On Offense: Eastside possesses explosive athletes all over the field, including two-time All-Region wide receiver turned quarterback, Brayden Harper. Its spread option attack is spearheaded by a talented trio of running backs. Don’t expect much drop off, despite the Eagles breaking in a new leader under center.
When On Defense: Defensive Coordinator Nathan Ogle will look to keep opposing offenses on their heels by employing multiple defensive fronts. With an athletic linebacker corps led by seniors Rico Ruffin and Jaylon Lackey as well as South Carolina commit Lamarius Benson holding it down in the trenches, defensive versatility shouldn’t be an issue for Eastside.
When On Special Teams: Expect the explosive playmaking junior Jamari Brown to handle most of the return duties. Eastside will look to utilize special teams as the game changer that it is and they expect to score when they touch the ball on special teams.
8/19: Luella @ Eastside: Always good for a young team to start off with a win.
8/25: Eastside @ Newton: Eastside vs. Newton is an absolute rivalry in every sense of the word. The all time series between the two teams is deadlocked at 6-6-1 after last year’s game ended in a 41-41 tie.
9/23: Oconee County @ Eastside: Oconee will be looking to salvage a heartbreaking loss in last year’s matchup.
10/13: Eastside @ Woodward Academy: One of the key region games for Eastside that can be a barometer matchup for the Eagles.
CoachSpeak: Coach Troy Hoff says: “Our philosophy hasn’t changed. I expect for us to compete, to get to game 11, and to enter the playoffs as a number one or two seed so that we host the opening round. The expectations don’t change for us.”