The Kiwanis Club of Covington saw its most familiar coach Thursday as Rick Hurst took the podium in front of the civic group for the eighth straight time.
Hurst has been at Eastside longer than both Newton's Cortez Allen and Alcovy's Kirk Hoffman.
Taking the helm at Eastside for the first time in 2005, Hurst has since transformed it into one of the area's most consistent programs and one of its regions' best teams. The Kiwanis Club provided a brief biography of Hurst detailing his career both with Eastside and his previous stops.
That brief career description got Hurst thinking of where he and the Eagles have come from to get to the point where he considered 2011's 5-5 season, "a down year."
He refreshed the crowd on his time at Americus, Wheeler High and then Ware County, where his son was born, which made him want to return home to North Georgia. That's when Hurst took the assistant head coach position at Central Gwinnett in 2002.
There he had one of his most memorable games, helping Central Gwinnett beat Buford, winners of 47 straight.
Hurst continued his career tale with the part closest to the Covington Kiwanis Club's hearts, his time at Eastside. Hurst took over the Eagles in 2005, taking a job which he knew would be an up-hill climb.
"At Eastside I knew what I was coming into," Hurst said. "The tradition wasn't there, there were not a whole lot of wins in the program, but I knew from someone I knew personally that the talent was there."
Hurst's first year at Eastside was a challenging one as the Eagles went 0-10, including a 27-20 loss to Newton, 35-13 loss to Heritage, 40-7 loss to Rockdale and a season-ending 28-7 defeat by Salem.
The final loss of the season was a turning point for Hurst, and, in hindsight, perhaps the Eastside program. The losses were mounting for Hurst, who wasn't used to missing out on the playoffs, yet alone missing out on wins, and was starting to rethink his decision.
"I began to question myself as to the job I was doing," Hurst said. "The Salem coach comes up to me after the game and says, ‘Rick let me tell you something, that's the best Eastside team that we have played in the four years I've been here. I know we beat you but...' he said, ‘whatever you're doing, you're doing it right, because those kids are playing their tails off for you."
After that exchange Hurst knew he and the Eagles were on the right track.
The following year, Eastside fielded a team mainly consisting of juniors and sophomores and finished 5-5.
"We just went from there," Hurst said.
Two years later Hurst had the Eagles in the playoffs for the first of three straight years. Throughout the period stretching from 2008-2010, the Eagles reached the semifinals, quarterfinals and second round of the state playoffs.
That stretch is what gives Hurst the mindset to tell groups like that gathered at the Kiwanis meeting that a 5-5 season is one he would like to correct quickly.
Hurst has since told his team there would be changes this year. While the offense and defensive philosophies will be the same when Eastside takes the field against Newton on Aug. 31, there will be a big noticeable difference to Eagles' fans.
Eastside will have a silver helmet with green face mask, as opposed to its traditional green helmet with white facemask.
That change also coincides with Eastside's move from Region 4-AAA to Region 8-AAAA after the Georgia High School Association reclassified teams this winter.
Hurst said he feels the schedule sets up for another possible playoff appearance, but it also sets up a great deal of travel.
"Looking at our schedule I think we have a very good opportunity to get in (to the playoffs)," Hurst said. "What place, I don't know. We are the farthest south team, (the region) extends from us in Covington to Toccoa. There will be heavy traveling for us."
As far as which teams would come out of Region 8-AAAA to reach the playoffs, Hurst wouldn't speculate too much but did say that Stephens County looks to be the most talented team.
"Our ninth game against Stephens, I would love of that to be for the region championship," Hurst said. "From a talent perspective, we're probably as talented as anybody in our region.
"But you can throw talent out the window because have to execute and you have to be in a position to make plays."
The Eagles first chance to be in such a position is just a week away, when they host an inter-county showdown with Newton at Sharp Stadium.