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Standing tall: All-Region 8-AAA team filled with Eagles
Justin Wray region 8-AAA player of the year
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What do The Truth, The Freak and The Real all have in common? They all play for Eastside and were recently named to the Region 8-AAA All-Region team.

Karl Williams, Broderick Alexander and Justin Wray headlined 11 Eastside players to earn All-Region recognition with Wray winning player of the year.

"It’s a big honor," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "It speaks volumes that the other coaches voted for him. All the coaches talked very highly of him. Whenever I talk with them, they always tell me they game plan for him. It’s a high honor when opposing teams have to prepare like that for you."

Wray beat out Hart County defensive end Jeffrey Rucker by a 6-2 margin.

Wide receiver Andrico Bailey, tackle James Johnson joined Wray and Alexander as first team offensive players while Williams' fellow defensive lineman Jacorey Maddox and linebackers Hunter Parker and Brandon Pettit joined him with first-team defensive honors.

Three more players, running back Git Aiken, offensive lineman Max Liebel and tackle Jarrett Hubbard received honorable mention.

Wray is the "Real Deal". The senior quarterback finished the regular season with a 64 percent completion rate, threw for 1027 yards and eight touchdowns. On the ground he was just as lethal, chewing up 373 yards with nine touchdowns.

"It’s a great feeling," Wray said. "I don’t know anyone in Eastside history that won player of the year. It’s just very special."

Like many in the program, coaches and player alike, Wray arrived wide-eyed four years ago. During that time, he’s formed a close bond with his offensive coordinator Jay Cawthon, a former quarterback himself.

"We’ve got close to the point where I don’t want to let him down and he doesn’t want to let me down," Wray said. "He’s progressed in his coaching and I’ve progressed in my playing. It helps me a lot that he played college football. He really helps me see the field."

Cawthon looks back four years and remembers the day he first met Eastside’s senior signal caller well.

"I remember when we first saw him [Wray]," Cawthon said. "He was a good looking kid. He came walking in with his dad and our eyes opened up. We found out he wanted to play quarterback and when we saw him throw the ball, we just knew."

Wray’s had plenty of help. When he isn’t passing or calling his own number, Wray has two solid backs in Alexander and Aiken to handoff to. Alexander, a 6-foot-2, 215 bruiser back with freakish power ran for 693 yards and found the end zone 14 times on the ground and once via the pass. In his most recent game, the region clincher against Franklin County, Alexander rumbled for 147 yards and four, count ‘em, four touchdowns.

"It’s very important to have those guys," Wray said. "It takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback when I can dish it off to one of my running backs and let them do their thing."

Alexander hasn’t just scored a bunch of touchdowns. In the road game at Elbert County, the Eagles trailed midway through the fourth quarter. Eastside called on it’s big back for a carry over the left side and Alexander responded with a 47-yard touchdown to recapture the lead, then later scored an insurance touchdown to secure the win.

Alexander is deceptively fast. Like former Ohio State Heisman running back Eddie George, Alexander is tall and big. But the senior back runs through the first hit more times than not and defensive backs are no match.

"I get the ball and just get downhill," Alexander said. "I try to follow my line. When the DBs and safeties come up on me, they usually try to go low so I just try and find a way to get around them so they won’t take out my knees."

"People don’t realize how fast he is," Hurst added. "He’s faster in games than he is in practice. He’s our inside guy that carries it between the tackles, but as you’ve seen against teams like Franklin County, he can take it to the outside too. He’s a load."

Both Wray and Alexander credit their offensive line for their success. In fact, if you ask Cawthon, the offensive line is playing as well as any unit he’s seen in his four years at Eastside.

"With our zone blocking scheme, it’s like a well-oiled machine," he said. "We do it better than most colleges do."

Williams has been the truth on defense. With a team-leading 10 sacks and three forced fumbles, the 6-foot-3 senior hasn’t met a quarterback he doesn’t want to sack.

"Karl has a lot of learning to do and I think his best football is ahead of him," Hurst said. "But he has a nose for the ball. He’s hard to block. He’s come so far in four years."

"I’m pleased. Those guys have worked hard," defensive coordinator Jason Tester added. "Jacorey [Maddox] has been solid. He’s made so much improvement over last year and Karl is a phenomenal athlete. He does great things, especially if we play a spread team."

What’s even scarier, Tester echoed Hurst and said his defense, in particular Williams, will only get better with time.

"The thing is I don’t think we’ve peaked yet." Tester said. "He [Williams] relies so much on his athleticism that we’re still working with him on what he’s supposed to do."

Williams’ breakout game came against Oconee County. Throughout the year, the Eagles faced mostly running teams, or at least teams with a heavy run/pass ratio. Against Oconee, Eastside faced a drop back passer in Zach Mettenberger and the Eagles teed off. Williams led the way with three sacks.

"Having Jay [Maddox] on the other side is a tremendous help," Williams said. "I know they might not say much about him, but most of my sacks come from him pressuring the quarterback, as well as Jarrell [Crowder] going up from the nose guard position and getting penetration."

Hubbard and Liebel have anchored an offensive line that had question marks surrounding it over the summer.

"We replaced basically everybody on the line and that was one of my biggest worries coming into the year," Hurst said. "They have far exceeded our expectations. Coach [Michael] Kennedy has done a solid job moving over from the defensive line to offense this year. He knows the zone blocking scheme as well as anyone and we wouldn’t be where we are without him."

Parker led the Eagles with 112 tackles and three forced fumbles while Pettit came in a close second with 97 tackles, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Maddox had a solid senior campaign, registering 58 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and one fumble recovery.

On offense, Bailey led the team with 337 yards receiving and a lofty 17.7 yards per catch average and three touchdowns. Aiken actually topped all rushers with 730 yards on the ground and scored one receiving and seven rushing touchdowns.

With the success Eastside has had in 2008, it’s no surprise so many players have been honored by the coaches in Region 8-AAA. While Wray, Alexander, Pettit, Parker, Maddox, Johnson and Bailey will graduate, the coaches agree this year’s team has been special.

"It’s just fun being around those guys," Cawthon said. "We knew this group would be special. They’ve learned so much. Everything we’ve taught them, they taken it and just run with it. We compete with everything we do. Our kids aren’t cocky and they believe in our system. They have a winning mentality and they just don’t want to get beat. They have a lot of confidence in what we do."

There is still alot of football left before anyone says goodbeye.