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PREP FOOTBALL: Eagles stick to winning ways under Cawthon
Eastside’s Kenai Grier (10) scores on a sweep play left during a GHSA 5A state playoff game against Jones County. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. – Failure to recover three straight onside kicks by Jones County ended Eastside’s 2021 season in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles’ season was completely lost. 

Eastside finished 8-4 overall with a 5-2 region record. It placed third in Region 8-AAAAA, too, behind Clarke Central and Apalachee. 

Head coach Jay Cawthon, who completed his first season at the helm, will remember this year as a memorable one. 

“[The players] came together and played for each other,” Cawthon said. “And they overcame a lot of adversity. I think that’s what makes this team a little more special.”

Multiple players on both sides of the ball led the Eagles this season. 

Offensively, it was a three-headed rushing attack with Dallas Johnson, Kenai Grier and E’Sean Arnold carrying the load. 

The leading rusher for Eastside was Johnson. He finished with 1,809 rushing yards while averaging 7.5 yards per carry and scored 22 touchdowns. 

Grier was the second-highest rusher with 681 yards and nine touchdowns. In addition to his running ability, Grier was also the team’s leading receiver with 24 receptions for 321 yards and four touchdowns. 

Arnold had 299 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns to add another dimension to Eastside’s offense. He also completed 61% of his passes for 680 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. 

On the other side of the ball, Christian Benson seemed to be a one man wrecking crew. 

Not only did he lead the team in total tackles with 95, but also he recorded team-high five sacks and 16 tackles for loss. 

Other contributions were made on defense, too. 

D’Von Duplessis recorded 88 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. Jean Claude Joseph III had four sacks on the season while Aeron Gresham and Damon Gawlinski recorded an interception apiece. 

Now, following the second round exit, the Eagles will look to 2022. They graduate a senior class that won 37 games in their career and made two quarterfinal appearances on top of that. 

Even so, Cawthon is optimistic about the future of the program because of the steady foundation that has been laid.

 “We’ve got a saying, ‘Tradition never graduates,’” Cawthon said. “I think we’ve gotten to that point where we keep it rolling and hopefully these young guys will see what these seniors have done for our program.”