COVINGTON — Eastside head football coach Troy Hoff doesn’t like to dwell on the past, especially when it comes to the success of his previous teams.
The Eagles’ past is celebrated, Hoff wants you to know. But when it is time to turn the page, the fifth-year head coach does just that. Even if that means leaving behind their undefeated 2018 regular season and subsequent run to the Elite 8.
None of their past success, he said, is going to make a difference when they take the field in 2019.
“Not any of those wins last year are going to help us this year,” Hoff said. “We talk about turning the page. We hung that banner up and celebrated that season, but it hangs as a reminder. Each team goes into a season with their own identity. I know the guys are going to hear about last year and people are going to talk about it, but 22 of those guys that played a lot of those snaps are gone.”
Of the Eagles’ 22 graduates from last season’s 12-1 record, Hoff and the Eagles will be tasked with replacing two heartbeats of the program in running back Taylor Carter and wide receiver, defensive back Jamari Brown.
Carter was the Eagles’ offensive workhorse in 2018 and ran to the tune of more than 1,100 yards and 22 combined touchdowns. Brown finished as the Eagles’ leading receiver in both yards and touchdowns and played his way to Class AAAA’s Defensive Player of the Year, too.
Arguably the Eagles’ biggest heartbeat of them all, quarterback Noah Cook, is set to return in 2019 for his senior season, a player Hoff has groomed into the Eagles’ starting quarterback since he was a sophomore.
“He’s had excellent development along the way and has put the work in,” Hoff said of Cook. “Now it’s about being consistent, snap to snap in practice and in the game. There’s not a whole lot that he hasn’t seen in his career. WIth the amount of snaps that he has seen, that’s a huge advantage for a quarterback.”
Cook, a 2019 Super Six recipient, finished his junior campaign with 2,100 yards on 143 of 211 passing. Cook tossed 27 touchdown passes to only three interceptions while rushing for five more scores on 352 yards.
The offensive weapons in which Cook will be targeting in 2019 have changed, however. The senior will no longer be executing run-pass options with Carter as his running back and will be without Brown, Jerry Mays and Antavious Cobb at receiver, three of Eagles’ Top 4 leaders in yards and receptions.
Instead, Cook will turn to his senior running mates, Colby Shivers and Jeffery Haynes. Shivers finished second only to Brown in receptions and yards from the receiver position in 2018 while Haynes played sparingly.
“Those guys that we had last year did a good job for us, but we have some guys this year that can do just as good of a job,” Cook said. “We don’t have anyone the stature and size of Jerry, but it doesn’t matter because they all have the same heart that Jerry had. They’re working their butts off every single day and it’s working so far.”
While Haynes is expected to give Cook a deep threat on the outside, it will be the connection between he and Shivers, his trusty tight end, to move the chains when needed to the most.
“With Colby, he knows how I throw it and knows where I want him to go,” Cook said. “That helps a lot, especially when we have those tight windows. It’s just those small details that make all of the difference in the world.”
At running back, the Eagles will turn to junior Terrence Reid, who rushed for upwards of 600 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. Filling the duties of Reid’s backup will be up to several young Eagles, one of which will be sophomore Ramon Hernandez.
“There are a bunch of young guys battling for snaps,” Hoff said. It’s going to process that continues all throughout the season, to be honest with you. Some of that will separate itself once we keep moving forward, but that’s one of those positions where you need to have more than one guy.”
On minimal reps, Hernandez rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns as a freshman in 2018. His shifty running style is expected to be a good counter to that of Reid’s.
“Ramon is a very talented athlete,” Hoff said. “He had some experience last year, so it’s not completely new to him. His role has increased a lot. He’s king of a slashing runner. He has really good burst and has good vision.”
With an Eagles’ offense predicated on establishing the run, Hoff will turn to his experienced offensive line, one anchored by seniors Pierce Downs and Bryant Byrd.
“With that group, you have two seniors that have played a ton of snaps with us in Pierce and Bryant,” Hoff said. “They are that rock. Having four of them back that played in 13 games together last year really gives you some confidence in that group. This year, it’s finding the right combination. They might not line up in the same place that they did last year.”
On defense, Hoff has faced the steep challenge of replacing several starters from 2018. The Eagles have parted ways with Jamari Brundage, their leading tackler at linebacker, as well as linebackers Dalton Whitley and Jordan Rodgers.
On the defensive line, the Eagles will be without 2018 standouts Hunter Williams, Tomarkus Woods and Jaylon Atlow. Williams, Woods and Atlow accounted for 14 of the Eagles’ 31 sacks.
In 2019, the Eagles will turn to senior Mark Jackson and juniors Seth Martin and Sambo Button to help anchor what will be an inexperienced defensive line.
“When you look at how young and inexperienced not only the defensive line is, but that defensive group as a whole, there are a lot of younger guys,” Hoff said. “Guys that haven’t played a ton of football. So that will be an area that we will continue to compete within the group for snaps. That will be ongoing throughout the season.”
The Eagles’ three returning defensive starters from 2018 will all come out of the secondary in Haynes at cornerback, junior Devin Brown at strong safety and senior Jalen Davis at free safety.
“Defensively, it’s critical that we get better each week,” Hoff said. “We’re not going to be the same team week’s 1, 2 and 3 that we are weeks’ four through the end. That was a key trademark from last year’s team as well. We got a lot better as the season went on.”
The Eagles were rarely tested in their 7-game region slate last season. Only once did they trail in the fourth quarter, a game against Woodward Academy that was sealed with a Haynes pick six in the closing minutes.
With the goal of repeating as Region 4 champions remaining the same, Hoff does not want their 2018 and 2019 teams compared. Instead, he wants his 2019 team to pave their own path and write their own history, something that can only be achieved with hard work.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Hoff said. “Where that falls with wins and losses? Who knows. Our goal is to get better each week and have this team reach their full potential. People talk about defending your region title. We’re not defending it. We need to go out and win it.”
The Eagles will open their season on the road at Ola on Aug. 23.