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Five sports storylines we're tracking for the 2017-18 school year
Members of the 2016 Eastside cross country team pose during last season's state meet. - photo by Submitted Photo | The Covington News
COVINGTON, Ga. -- It seems like we were just counting down the top 10 sports stories of the 2016-17 school year about five minutes ago, and now here we are, five days away from the first day of the 2017-18 year and season. 

If there’s a good side to the short summers, it’s the fact that we get treated sooner to more high quality high school sports actions. And with the beginning of the new school year in close view, it also means the start of the sports calendar isn’t far behind. 

That said, let’s take a look at what we believe are the top five sports storylines to follow as we are less than two weeks away from a new fall sports year. 

1. How will Eastside football’s new faces respond?  Twenty-five seniors lost. By now, it probably sounds like a broken record for third-year Eastside football coach Troy Hoff. He’s known since this time last year that the 2017 season would be a bit of a reset for his Eagles bunch. That’s because, not only were the 25 he saw graduate senior leaders, they were also among the more talented groups of players the Eagles have seen in recent years. But the talent cupboard is not bare. Starting defensively, LeMarius Benson and Spurgeon Gaither may be one of the best defensive tackle tandems nobody outside of East Metro Atlanta is talking about. Benson will also look to anchor a young offensive line. 

Summer 7-on-7 sessions also showed Eastside to have a good bevy of skill potential power, starting with a three-headed monster at running back, led by junior Taylor Carter, a savvy new starter under center in Brayden Harper and a promising junior wideout in Jamari Brown. With youth, success almost always hinges on how quick the new pieces gel. But the Eagles’ coaching staff has proven itself stout over the years with squeezing the most out of what it has. If Eastside takes a step back this year, it certainly won’t be for lack of talent or coaching. 

2. What will the Alcovy Tigers do for an encore? Coach Chris Edgar probably would give a one word answer to this. Playoffs. 

And not in his Jim Mora voice, either. Edgar has said on numerous occasions that he firmly believes this Alcovy bunch has enough to make a run to the state playoffs in November. And watching them over the summer did nothing to disavow that thought. The Tigers showed they could compete from a skill position standpoint, with virtually anyone in the state. The difference between another 4-6 campaign and the school’s fourth ever winning season will be in the trenches. In Alcovy’s spring game against Newton, the Rams regularly punished Alcovy’s trenchmen on both sides of the ball. Will a new o-line coach and streamlined offensive scheme help? 

3. Is it a rebuilding year for softball in Newton County? Let’s see: Alcovy’s got a new softball coach in Kelli Wesley. Eastside will trot out a bunch of talented, yet inexperienced players, particularly in the pitching circle and Newton, under coach Tamara Johnson, will be looking for its first winning season in quite some time. With new coaches and/or new talent seemingly flowing across the board, it more than likely spells transition year for everyone. But don’t be surprised to see an unlikely spark from of these schools. Wesley’s first year at Alcovy will be particularly interesting to watch after she was widely well received when it was announced that she’d take the reigns of the once proud Lady Tiger program. 

4. Can Eastside cross country make a repeat performance? Both the Eagles boys and girls cross country teams capped off impressive 2016 seasons with a trip to the state meet, and that was a few months removed from the school’s 2016 state championship track and field squad. So that means there is some definite running talent at Eastside. 

5. Is Newton a team to beat in Region 8-AAAAAAA? The Rams took some lumps last year with the summer departure of now-Michigan freshman running back Kurt Taylor’s transfer to Grayson, which left the running back corps in a tizzy. Not to mention Myron Middlebrooks getting broken in as the starting quarterback, and at times, Newton’s offense was tough to watch — particularly against the region’s better teams. But now a two-man tandem at tailback has sprouted with a healthy Nuru Tinch and a potentially electrifying Adarius Thomas. A young corps of wide receivers and a bigger, stronger, faster and offensively smarter Middlebrooks makes Newton’s offense more than formidable. 

Add to that, a solid and rather large offensive line and a star in Clemson commit Darnell Jefferies anchoring a fast and stingy defense, and it makes you wonder if this Rams bunch has what it takes to make a run for a region crown. There will be no super teams with the likes of Grayson in the region this year, so it could very well be a wide open window of opportunity for coach Terrance Banks and crew.