They keep scheduling them and beating them.
I’m talking about the Eastside Football Eagles, of course. After Friday night’s 35-7 rout of Alcovy, the Eagles accomplished a few things of note, beyond just upping their record to 3-0.
In defeating Alcovy, a Class AAAAAA school, Eastside ran its winning streak against schools in larger classifications to five straight games dating back to last season. Those wins:
- 2018: Ola (AAAAA) 42-17; Newton (AAAAAAA) 27-20; Alcovy (AAAAAA) 35-7.
- 2017: Loganville (AAAAA) 21-3; Alcovy (16-6).
In addition, Eastside tied Newton 41-41 in 2016 and defeated Alcovy again while losing a tough game to a 9-3 Loganville team. Dating back to 2015, Eastside’s only lost two games to teams in larger classifications.
Those are the kinds of games that are supposed to be numbers mismatches that translate to depth mismatches which often lead to mismatches on the scoreboard. Yet, Eastside keeps rolling. And doing so by carving out a reputation of being one of the most well-coached football teams you’ll ever see.
Don’t believe me? Ask Alcovy coach Chris Edgar who expressed frustration at his own team’s early-season penchant for making drive-killing errors while simultaneously praising Eastside for avoiding the same.
“Eastside’s a fantastic team,” Edgar said. “They’re No. 8 in the state (Class AAAA) for a reason. You can’t help them with bad plays and mistakes and mental errors and blown coverages. They don’t need that help. Hats off to them for what they do. They’ve earned it.”
When you drive up on the Eastside campus, it might be easy to take for granted that one of the more consistent Georgia High School Association programs over the last decade or so resides here.
The campus is smallish, even by Class AAAA standards. Facilities aren’t plenteous. But since fielding back-to-back 0-10 campaigns in 2004 and 2005, The Eagles have won no less than five games since.
Included in the 12-year stretch is 10 seasons of winning a minimum seven games with consecutive 11-win campaigns complete with an Elite Eight and Final Four playoff run in Class AAA back in 2008-2009 when Rick Hurst was starting to get things rolling.
During that time, Eastside’s made six trips to the playoffs, including two of the last three years under Hoff. And it’s never because some big named transfer comes into town. In fact, when you ask Hoff about it, he likes to toss out the term, “program kids.”
“These are guys who go to work Monday through Thursday, get in the film room in the offseason. They are committed guys,” Hoff said. “They’ve been with us since the beginning and they are committed to this program. I’m proud of them. I’m happy for them. We’ve got a lot of them. That’s why on our defensive line, we don’t have to just stick with three guys. We’ve got kids we can rotate in and keep them fresh.”
They aren’t three or four or five star prospects, most times. In fact, particularly when talking about the trenches, we keep using the word “undersized” to describe them.
“Chances are, you’re going to say that about us when comparing us to an opponent more times than not,” Hoff said. “But we’ve got kids who have a lot of heart.”
Eastside’s also got coaches who have a ton of skill and experience, ranging from high school coaching chops to NFL playing experience. One of the greatest hallmarks of Eastside’s football program, other than its consistency, is its discipline. This was something I used to notice even from afar while I spent time covering high school football in other areas.
I’d always wonder how in the world Eastside competes so well with all these teams that, on paper, you’d think they shouldn’t compete well with. When I had my Clayton County/Henry County gig a few years ago, it got to the point where I’d almost never pick against Eastside, because they just seemed to know how to get it done, regardless of the odds.
As I got closer to the program, I began to see why. The discipline and the “well-coachedness” at Eastside starts from the top and trickles down.
Hoff has proven himself as an easy-to-work-with, fairly laid back guy. But he’s also all business when it comes to the way he handles his program. Even I’ve gotten the light chastisement every now and then from him to give him more heads up for planning’s sake when it comes to certain types of coverage I and my staff want to provide his kids.
I can do nothing but respect that. And when I found out more about his background, I understood it even more.
Before moving south, Hoff played and coached at Northern State University, a NCAA Division II program in Aberdeen, South Dakota — about 380 miles north of my midwestern hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. And one thing I know about that area, whether you are born and raised there, or you stick around long enough to play and coach there, some of those blue collar ways will rub off on you.
I’m pretty sure some of that was in him before his collegiate days, but I’m sure being at Northern State and working on the staff of then-head coach Ken Heupel, father of first-year UCF head coach (and one of Hoff’s good friends) Josh Heupel didn’t hurt.
You can kind of see those collegiate chops oozing from him in the way he runs Eastside’s program, and even in the company of coaches he keeps around him. It’s a different kind of discipline that you don’t see every day on the high school level.
And it’s proven to be a viable secret weapon for a program that’s probably never going to overwhelm you with an abundance of bluechip football talent. That’s no slight to Eastside, or even Covington. In fact, it’s a kudos to Hoff and his staff for doing what good, blue collar staffs do — take what you’ve got, no matter what level of ability, and squeeze everything you can from it.
I’d venture to say that Hoff and Eastside football do that about as well as anybody in the state.
Will it one day turn into region or state championships? Time will tell. What we know now is Eastside’s the eighth ranked team in the state, and probably set to climb when next week’s ranking come out.
We also know that teams like Salem and Woodward Academy often get more of the statewide shine when they have those rated recruits dotting their rosters. But anyone honest will tell you that recruiting shine seldom ever wins ball games.
“We talk about it all the time from a defensive standpoint, that in today’s age in football, yards mean nothing,” Hoff said. “It’s scoring defense and turnovers. If you win those two areas, you’re gonna win a lot of ball games. Our kids got good ball skills. They’re being aggressive, and they’re working together. That’s what you’re seeing.”
In short, discipline.
It makes sense why his mantra for most any game — particularly those where it may feel like Eastside is overmatched— is, “just get to the fourth quarter.”
“We always feel like if we can keep it close into the fourth, anything can happen against anyone,” Hoff said.
So far this year, with the exception of Newton, Eastside hasn’t needed the fourth quarter, as two of its three wins have come in dominating fashion.
But just a word of caution for those of you just warming up to what Eastside football is all about: Don’t sleep on them. Take it from me as a once-distant and now close-up observer of this program.
And as long as they keep that approach, I believe it’s just a matter of time before Eastside gets over that championship hump.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @GabrielStovall1 or @CovNewsSports.