COVINGTON, Ga. -- The Eastside Eagles made an undefeated 12-0 season in 2018 look easy, as they dominated the local football scene's headlines with a historic year.
Having a season like the one it had last year placed a sizable target on Eastside’s back, as one Eagles coach put it.
Truthfully, there is no offseason for any team in Newton County -- or Georgia for that matter -- right now, but especially for the team that has to prove that 2018 was no fluke and that it was everything it presented itself to be. Eastside will be spending the majority of the rest of the summer painstakingly preparing for their encore year.
Beginning on Monday however, coach Troy Hoff’s Eagles took a moment to have a little downtime on the field by hosting a three-day training camp for kids in the community. Kids of all ages were able to work out with all of the Eagles coaching staff and some of the players.
Some of the kids were siblings of current Eastside players, while some were trying football for the first time, and others just wanted a chance to work out with the players they cheer on in the stands on Friday nights.
For rising senior and team captain Colby Shivers, he understands what the camp means to the neighborhood and what his being there represents.
“They look up to us – we’re like their role models,” Shivers said. “On Friday nights, they’re out there watching us, cheering us on, and I’m sure we mean a lot to them. They just look up to us, because they think we’re like the superheroes of the town really, and they just love watching us.”
The seriousness of preparing for a year with so much on the line was traded in for some lighthearted fun with Eastside coaches and players who were seemingly having more fun than the kids in attendance.
A contest for the best dance after a completed drill in coach Trey Camps’ offensive line, and coach Jarvis Brice harkening back to his playing days with his demonstration of the rip move gave the attending youth a chance to enjoy the company of the Eagles on a more personal level.
Laughs and jokes tossed back and forth between teammates were plentiful, and the kids never went without a smile on their faces for the entire first day of the camp.
It was a welcomed change of pace for Eastside players who spent Monday morning in a three-hour summer workout designed to get them in shape for the 2019 season.
Some players, as was their right, opted not to return that evening to help out with the camp. Yet players like Shivers, Austin King, Pierce Downs, Garrison King, Mark Jackson and starting quarterback Noah Cook showed up to lend a helping hand to the camp, describing it as a way to help expand enjoyment of their football experience.
“[Camps like this] shoots [my confidence] through the roof, Shivers said. “I mean, I’m out here – I love making [the kids] smile. I love doing everything I can for them, because it just warms me up to feel that I’m making someone happy that’s younger than me and looks up to me. And I just feel like I’m a big inspiration in their lives.”
The Eagles in attendance did not find it a burden to come back out and support because they understood that the support they get from the community is earned, not given.
Consequentially, giving that love back to the area is vital to the Eastside program.
“I think coach Hoff’s vision of the program is that this is a program that the community can be proud of and supportive of,” said defensive line coach Chris Edgar, new to the staff after spending the last three years as Alcovy's head football coach.
"And they had a great year last year, which I wasn’t a part of. But going forward having some of the younger members of the Covington community being excited about coming and being a part of Eastside football is a great thing. They get to be out here with actual coaches. Coach [Erik] McMillan was a [Defensive] NFL Rookie of the Year. You just don’t get that kind of opportunity.
“…Coach [Jay Cawthon] is a mad genius…that offense is fun to watch. So they get that hands-on experience with these great coaches.”
By introducing the kids to the Eastside way, there is also a possibility of creating a pipeline of talent that could result in some of them trying out for the team.
For example, the camp experience eight years ago is precisely what led incoming freshman offensive lineman, Levi Chaffin -- a former Indian Creek Middle standout -- to joining the team when he had the chance. Same thing could be said for sophomore linebacker Tucker Cleary, a player Hoff said has "been going to our camp since he could walk," and sophomore defensive end Christian Benson, the younger brother of now-UCF player Lamarius Benson.
“So [the players] have that pride in the program too, and they want that to continue on,” Edgar said. “And so it’s good for them just to be out here and kind of give back to the community as well, for sure.”
Eastside has a lot on its plate for the next season, and it isn't taking that challenge lightly. The work the team, is prepared to put in from now until the season isn't easy by any means. There won’t be many off days and chances to rest on their laurels.
However, when the lights are on Friday nights this fall, and Eastside is back to making it look easy, the kids from the camp will remember the time the Eagles took out for them.
And they’ll remember the answer they gave Cook when he asked: “Y’all love football?”
It was a resounding, "yes."