COVINGTON - Eastside's football team is going to have a different, yet familiar look when they take on Harris County in Hamilton on Friday.
After sending 10 players to the next level, the young Eagles are going to have to find their own identity rather then focus on last year's team as they rebuild.
"I really believe that our underclassmen are good players and in two years they're going to be as good than what we just lost," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "You hope you can find people that can get the job done (now) and in a few years they're able to make the plays like they (Justin Wray and Broderick Alexander) did."
Staying the same is the spread offense which kept a lot of teams off balance last season. However, they're adding new wrinkles to have it fit this group of players.
Taking over the reins for the Eastside offense is Califf Carnes, who backed up Wray last season and even got some playing time.
"He played in situations where it really didn't count since the score was already out of hand," Hurst said. "But he's ready to take it over."
Acting as Carnes' backup is freshman Cameron Boyd.
Ready or not, Carnes is going to have to start leading the team against a very good Tigers defense.
If he is to get his first win as Eastside's new leader, he will have to keep Harris County defensive end Jordan Jenkins off balance.
One way to do this is with a good mixture of passing and running plays.
"They're very aggressive on defense. Hopefully, we'll be able to do some miss direction which is what we do anyway. We've got to keep people on their toes," Hurst said.
While the Eagles no longer have a punishing running back like Alexander, they do have a lot of quick backs like Git Aiken and Greg Griffieth. Hopefully, they will be able to use their speed in the middle and around the end to keep Harris County's front line from jamming the middle or keying on the edges.
"You don't replace a 210-pound running back that runs like (Alexander) did. We're still going to run inside with the guys we got. They're smaller but they're quick. They hit the seam very well," Hurst said.
"We're just going to have to be able to pick our points and be able to call it when we get the opportunity to run it."
Opening the holes for the backfield are Dalton Temple, Lincoln Temple, Jarrett Hubbard, Dane McGlone and Lane Dobbs.
With Hubbard, Dobbs and Dalton Temple returning, Hurst said that the front line is the strongest part of the offense at this point.
On throwing plays, Carnes has a group of new and returning players to choose from.
"Zac Johnston is back and Git caught a lot of balls for us last year. We've also got Jerome Ivey and a couple of sophomores, Quan Moton and Dante Blackmon," Hurst added. "You're also going to see a lot of our tight ends too. You'll see Blake Rouse and Sheldon Rankins trying to stretch the field down the middle."
Defenseively, the Eagles have to play assignment football and make sure they stay where they belong against the Tigers' triple-option offense.
With most of last year's defense out of school, a lot of it is going to fall on experienced players in new positions or brand new varsity players.
Hubbard will be one of the experienced players at nose guard and will split time with new player Shaquille Huff, a sophomore. Jarrod Rickman and Blake Rouse, also sophomores, will play linebacker.
"Then we have a junior who's really our leader on defense right now, Kevis Bell. He calls all the checks and he knows the game. He started every game for us last year," Hurst said. "Those six are going to be very good.
"I've been impressed with how the defense has played. Down the road, by the time this year is over or next year, they're going to be better than we ever were at any point in time. I really believe that. I think we're more physical up front."
Those six, along with the secondary, will have to force Harris County out of the run and into pass mode. Not that they can't pass, but it's not something they feel secure doing a lot.
While it would be nice winning the next three games, including county rivals Newton and Alcovy, Hurst knows that the real season won't begin until Sept. 25 when Elbert County come calling.
Elbert County signals the beginning of one of its three goals of the season, repeating as Region 8-AAA champions and making it to the Class AAA playoffs. Even though it's a tall order considering the talent they lost, it's not something that is out of reach.
"I think we're going to be in the mix. I'm not going to say we're going to win it, but I think we've got a chance. We could be middle of the pack or we could be in the top three. As long as we get one of those four spots we're in," Hurst said.
The other goals set by the team are to win the state championship and the county championship.
However, Hurst's goals are a little simpler, "we want to play disciplined football, hard-nosed, always playing hard."
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: Eastside Football
· Coach: Rick Hurst (fifth year)
· Last year's record: 11-2 overall, 6-1 Region 8-AAA
· First game: Fri. Aug. 28 7:30 p.m. at Harris County