COVINGTON, Ga. — Better late than never.
With the start of the high school football season pushed back two weeks, and a built-in open date scheduled for Week 1, Eastside High School is having to wait much longer than usual to take the field. The anticipation and buildup will come to a head at last this Friday, Sept. 11, when the Eagles kick off their 2020 campaign on the road against Winder-Barrow.
By the time Eastside takes the field Friday, it will have been nearly 10 months since the club walked off the turf following a 28-21 loss to Mary Persons in the Class AAAA state playoffs.
But in a strange offseason that wiped out spring football and limited workouts in the summer and fall, the Eagles are grateful for a few extra days of preparation.
“We’re making up for some lost time in some regards and getting back into the flow of things,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said. “As you get to an open week, you’re able to craft the week according to what you need to do a little more knowing you’re not playing Friday. But, at the same time, you’re implementing more of a game week feel.”
Hoff’s team was forced to press pause on their preparation in August when the Newton County School System enforced a county-wide indefinite suspension of athletics and extracurriculars. The suspension was lifted eight days later, but the temporary hiatus thew every team in the area out of their groove.
“We had to go back and not start over completely from scratch, but you’ve got to start from the acclamation period again. It kind of breaks your routine from where you were at that point,” Hoff said.
Back in a rhythm, Eastside spent its open week preparing for a season-opening clash with Winder-Barrow.
The Bulldoggs kicked off their 2020 campaign on the road Friday, Sept. 4, when they traveled to Apalachee. Senior running back JC Green rushed for four touchdowns to lead Winder-Barrow to a 34-27 victory in the season opener. Green’s club is coming off a subpar 2019 campaign that saw them defeat just three opponents: Loganville (34-21), Apalachee (24-19) and Habersham Central (41-40).
Winder-Barrow has gone 5-16 over the past two seasons, but the Eagles are bent on not overlooking any adversary that stands between them and a victory.
“We know we’re going on the road to play a really good 6A opponent that’s a physical football team. That’s their trademark,” Hoff said. “Coach [Ed] Dudley’s done a great job whoever he’s been at, and the hallmarks of his teams have been they play physical football, they’re well-coached and you’re going to be in for a fight.”
Meanwhile, Eastside enters the 2020 season with a number of questions that need answering.
The most prominent talking point will be how senior Jaylen Woods transitions into his role as starting quarterback following the departure of three-year starter Noah Cook. Woods, who started at wide receiver for Eastside last fall, has seized his opportunities under center this offseason.
“A lot of those questions, as far as personnel and how everybody fits together, will get answered after you have a couple of games under your belt,” Hoff said. “Not only has the offseason been dramatically different, you also don’t have that dress rehearsal, so to speak, to get some live film against another opponent in a scrimmage.”
Friday’s kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. With new restrictions and guidelines set in place to combat COVID-19, the Eagles and Bulldoggs — like all teams in the GHSA — will be playing under unique circumstances.
But that won’t change Hoff’s expectations for his club.
“I’m looking for a lot of energy regardless of if we’re playing in the parking lot or on a field, and if anybody’s there or nobody’s there,” he said. “I think our kids will be ready to go.”