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PREP FOOTBALL: Eastside's fourth place finish at Airo 7v7 all about 'competing'
Eastside's Jabari Brown sprints toward the end zone, away from a Heritage defender after catching a pass while being double covered during Thursday's Airo 7v7 tournament. - photo by Gabriel Stovall | The Covington News

LOGANVILLE, Ga. -- Troy Hoff has been with Eastside High School for over 10 years, this year will be his third as head coach. Since he took over in 2015, Eastside has enjoyed 7-3 and 7-3-1 records respectively.

The 2017 Eagles will be a younger group compared to previous years. Hoff took that into consideration when setting goals for the spring and summer. Among his top goals was creating more competition and depth.

“Finding those young guys or guys who haven’t played much where now it’s their time to step up,” Hoff said, “Just getting those guys as much reps as possible this summer.”

One of the main areas of competition for high school football today is the emergence of 7-on-7 football and 5-on-5 camps for linemen. For most schools across Georgia, it’s been a summer chock-full of these 7-on-7’s and passing leagues.

Eastside is different however.  They just participated in their first 7-on-7 at the Airo 7v7 State Championships at Walnut Grove High School. Their debut did not disappoint, as the Eagles went undefeated in pool play while posting a 7-1 mark overall, en route to a semifinals finish where it lost to tournament champion Clarke Central of Athens.

“With these we just want to compete,” he said, “Our offense we’re running is stuff we’re going to do on Friday so it’s all about reps for the players.”

The tournament was also the first public introduction of new quarterback Brayden Harper. Harper is taking over for 2016 The Covington News football Player of the Year Austin Holloway, and he is making the transition from full-time wide receiver to starting quarterback look fairly seamless, according to Hoff.

“He’s new to quarterback but not to being a leader, being an all-region receiver these last two years,” Hoff said, “He’s been a backup quarterback, he’s started games at quarterback and now it’s his show, his team and he’s embracing that role.”

Harper says he enjoys 7-on-7. He feels like it gives him a leg-up on the season, allowing him to see looks and schemes differently than his own defense. He doesn’t see many differences between himself and his predecessor and understands the goals of the team for the upcoming season.

“I think we both expect our team to perform at its best and that’s not going to change,” Harper said, “I feel good, I’m just at a different position doing a new job. That’s all.”

Elsewhere, Eastside will also have to replace all-around athlete Eric Stokes, now a freshman at the University of Georgia. One of the players looking to take on that role is rising junior Jamari Brown, who also plays receiver.

Jamari had an impressive showing at the Airo 7v7 tournament Thursday, making multiple key grabs for scores or to keep drives going, and also playing with a bravado that speaks of his confidence, despite just completing his sophomore season.

“[Eric] left and took a lot with him, but with this group we just have to re-group and focus,” Brown said, “Just making sure everyone knows where they’re supposed to be at and have the mentality that we’re good enough to stop teams.”

Players like Harper, Brown and rising senior running back Taylor Carter are now the leaders of the team, and as such, it’s their responsibility to coach the younger players up. The Airo tournament served as good preparation for what’s to come on Friday nights.

“We love it, we bust our butts just to come out here and compete,” Carter said, “Our mindset is having a chip on our shoulder, nobody wants us to win so we go out there and try to win.”

As for Hoff and his expectations for the season, he just wants to get to game 11 – the first game of the playoffs. 

“I say get to game 11 and be either a one or two seed and that’ll never change,” Hoff said, “Before talking about winning championships you have to be in the show. Our goal is to be alive at game 11, because then anything can happen.”