COVINGTON, Ga. — When the Eastside football team takes the field Thursday night in a 7:30 p.m. Region 4-AAAA clash with Luella, the atmosphere promises to be charged with excitement, and for more reasons than just the game being played.
That’s because when the No. 8 Eagles (4-0, 1-0) host the Lions (2-2, 1-0), they won’t be coming out onto the football field alone.
Instead, they’ll be joined by members of several local law enforcement agencies, including the Covington Police Department, who will lock arms with Eastside players and coaches in a showing of solidarity and support for injured Covington police officer Matt Cooper.
Cooper was injured in the line of duty several weeks ago, and is making a slow but steady recovery. And the fact that Cooper is an Eastside alum and former Eagle football player himself continues to make the situation hit home harder for Eastside High.
“Matt is an Eagle, first and foremost,” said Eastside coach Troy Hoff. “And what we’re doing for him Thursday night really started with conversations with (Principal Jeff) Cher, who used to coach a number of those guys. We knew we had those bye weeks and we weren’t going to be at home for a while, so we had time to plan it out and do it right.”
Hoff said he and others from Eastside ironed things out with CPD chief Stacey Cotton and captain Ken Malcolm. From those discussions, all sides felt a comprehensive approach to showing support to law enforcement was in order.
“We’re bringing in all law enforcement for this,” Hoff said. “It’s a special night for the CPD, but when you’re talking about backing the blue, it should include all of them. The Georgia State Patrol is involved. Just all agencies pulling in the same direction. What we’ve learned from this is that all of these branches of law enforcement are a lot like a team, fire department and emergency workers as well.”
The Georgia State Patrol color guard complete with their bagpipe player will be on hand as well as the homage-paying festivities will begin at 7 p.m., right before the game.
Hoff said it’s not just the coaches and officers who are excited, but Eastside’s players are pumped about it too. And the thing that almost chokes Hoff up is the idea that Cooper’s family — and perhaps Cooper himself — may be able to watch it all happen.
“We’re going to have it playing on Facebook Live, and Matt’s family is going to be watching, as well as Matt himself if possible,” Hoff said. “Our guys are really excited about the game, but also being able to draw attention to the police fund. Mr. Malcolm is (quarterback) Noah (Cook’s) uncle, so that interest is already there, but beyond that, our guys just know how big of a deal this is.”
Not to be lost in it all is the fact that Eastside will have a game to play after the ceremony has ended.
Luella will bring a two-game winning streak into Sharp Stadium after defeating McIntosh 44-37 in overtime at the beginning of the month and beating Druid Hills 25-3 two weeks ago. The Lions opened the season with losses to Class A Trinity Christian and Class AAAA No. 2. Cartersville.
“Luella and coach (Jason) Jackson are starting to see the type of program they want to become and how he wants to do things,” Hoff said. “They’ve played a tough schedule. They went to Cartersville which isn’t easy for anyone to do, so they’re not afraid of big games. They’re a physical team and they’re gonna get after it. Their coach was a guy on Cartersville’s staff that won a state title, so he knows what it takes to get to that place.”
Hoff said Luella’s rebuilding process sort of reminds him of what he experienced when the Eagles began their reclamation project back when Rick Hurst was pacing the sidelines.
“We can relate to that,” he said. “It’s a similar spot, where they are, to where we were when we first got here. That seems like a long time ago, but in some ways it feels closer than that. But with our guys, we’ve been blessed with a crew that’s going to work and are buying into the standard that we’re asking for. It’s been a great week of practice, but we’re expecting a tough, four-quarter region game.”