2007 East­side Ea­gles Un­der nest of pres­sure

Ex­pe­ri­enced Ea­gles have some­thing else to prove

The Covington News - - FOOTBALL PREVIEW - By Ja­son Mur­dock

In 1981, “Un­der Pres­sure” was a big hit for Queen.

For the East­side Ea­gles, it’s ar­guably their theme song en­ter­ing the 2007 sea­son, which be­gins Fri­day against the crosstown ri­val New­ton Rams.

Last year, the Ea­gles posted an over­all 5-5 record. Pre­vi­ously, they had lost a string of 20 con­sec­u­tive games, mak­ing 2006 all the more spe­cial. Based on their sig­nif­i­cant turn­around, even more is ex­pected of the Ea­gles this year.

“Sure, there is (pres­sure) and that’s a good thing,” said East­side head coach Rick Hurst. “I never want to be in a place where I wasn’t ex­pected to win — I couldn’t work in a place like that.”

Af­ter all, that is the rea­son why Hurst got into this po­si­tion in the first place — to win games. As a re­sult, he has achieved that goal — now he has to sus­tain it.

“We had a great win­ter and a good sum­mer,” ac­knowl­edged Hurst, “and I think we’re ahead of where we were last year at this time. I’d love to win our sub-re­gion or re­gion, but the ul­ti­mate goal is to get into that field of 32.”

Over­all, Hurst feels at ease with his of­fense, de­fense and spe­cial teams. But it’s the kick­ing game that he has been thor­oughly im­pressed with, par­tic­u­larly the leg of Yan­rick Tin­ker.

“I think our kick­ing game is much bet­ter,” said Hurst. “Yan­rick has a strong leg and had never kicked a foot­ball be­fore un­til this year. Kick­ing off, he’s been putting it inside the five-yard line and end zone.”

But un­til the of­fi­cial sea­son be­gins, only then will Hurst know where his squad stands.

“I’m not too con­cerned about our phys­i­cal as­pect,” said Hurst. “I’m wor­ried about our men­tal as­pect. My big­gest fear is not know­ing how to han­dle suc­cess, be­cause (we) haven’t had it here.”

Tak­ing the snaps once again at quar­ter­back will be ju­nior Justin Wray, who earned All-County and All­Re­gion hon­ors last year as a sopho­more.

“Justin has pro­gressed and is start­ing to see the whole pic­ture now,” said Hurst. “It’s start­ing to slow down for him, (and) he’s start­ing to read de­fenses.”

Last year, Wray com­pleted 74 of 153 passes for 1,267 yards and 10 touch­downs, in­clud­ing seven in­ter­cep­tions. In ad­di­tion, Wray had 415 rush­ing yards (73 at­tempts) and five touch­downs.

Ac­cord­ing to Hurst, Wray was too in­con­sis­tent. In ad­di­tion, his foot­work needed vast im­prove­ment, which at times forced him to over­com­pen­sate by us­ing his arm.

“He’s done a re­ally good job of work­ing on it,” said Hurst. “But he’s not a prac­tice player — he’s a gamer. Justin has got to un­der­stand that as good as he is right now, he could be bet­ter if he prac­ticed per­fect ev­ery­day.”

Sopho­more Jake Cas­teel is the backup quar­ter­back should any­thing hap­pen to Wray, from a phys­i­cal or men­tal per­spec­tive.

“Jake could lead this foot­ball team with­out a doubt,” said Hurst. “There is a big drop off ath­let­i­cally, but he does some things very, very well. He has good lead­er­ship skills and I’m not afraid of us­ing him.”

With six le­git­i­mate run­ning backs, each ca­pa­ble of rack­ing up mounds of yardage, Hurst rec­og­nized that is his deep­est po­si­tion and per­haps big­gest ad­van­tage.

Se­niors Larenzo Echols (387 rush­ing yards, four touch­downs), Mau­rice Gaither and Johnny Nor­ring­ton (303 rush­ing yards, three touch­downs) re­turn with the speed East­side will need for its ground at­tack. Ju­nior Tony At­wa­ter re­turns, in ad­di­tion to sopho­mores Bride­cous Aiken and Greg Grif­fith.

“I feel like any of those guys can make some­thing hap­pen,” praised Hurst. “All of them have good hands out of the back­field, too.”

Last year, Echols and Nor­ring­ton com­bined for 17 re­cep­tions for 411 yards and four touch­downs.

Brod­er­ick Alexan­der (61 tack­les, seven sacks) — a ju­nior trans­fer from New­ton — will also see sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time, both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively.

Ac­cord­ing to Hurst, each year he en­ters the sea­son want­ing to throw the ball as much as run it, 50-50 straight up. He’s done it be­fore with other pro­grams and had great suc­cess.

“It makes it very tough on de­fenses,” rea­soned Hurst, “but I’ve learned that if we are run­ning the ball down your throat, why throw it?”

Based on East­side’s style of play, the run­ning backs will also serve as re­ceivers. But the pri­mary wide re­ceivers are ju­niors An­drico Bai­ley (24 re­cep­tions, 562 yards and four touch­downs) and An­tar­ios Ter­rell (eight re­cep­tions, one touch­down), in­clud­ing sopho­more Jerome Ivey.

The of­fen­sive line wel­comes five re­turn­ing play­ers, in­clud­ing four se­niors — Jor­dan Ritchey (left tackle), Kyle Du­rand (left guard), Rus­sell Cor­ley (cen­ter) and Bran­don Durepo (right tackle), as well as ju­nior James John­son (right guard).

Du­rand, who started all 10 games last sea­son, led the Ea­gles with 27 pan­cake blocks.

“Ex­pe­ri­ence-wise I feel pretty good about it,” said Hurst. “I think this is the best group of of­fen­sive line­men that we’ve had.”

De­fen­sively, the Ea­gles are just as tal­ented, if not more. Their pre­vi­ous suc­cess should keep East­side in each and ev­ery game.

How­ever, the Ea­gles lost two key play­ers due to in­jury — Karl Wil­liams (36.5 tack- les, team-high 6.5 sacks) and Justin McKelvey (20.5 tack­les, 2.5 sacks). It was dev­as­tat­ing to not only the play­ers, but also Hurst.

“Af­ter that hap­pened, I was wor­ried,” said Hurst.

But the head coach re­ceived an un­ex­pected and pleas­ant bolt from the blue when East­side bas­ket­ball play­ers Ja­cory Mad­dox and Rashad Hill showed up in his of­fice one day want­ing to play foot­ball.

“They were two of our big­gest sur­prises this year,” ad­mit­ted Hurst.

For the sec­ondary, two of the four starters are back — se­nior Kaleb Pass (free safety) and Echols (22.5 tack­les, three fum­ble re­cov­er­ies).

“I can’t say enough about Kaleb,” praised Hurst. “He’s a great kid (who) made the best of an op­por­tu­nity, and I can al­ways count on him. Kaleb is go­ing to have a chance to play some­where af­ter this year.”

Pass recorded a team-high 61.5 tack­les last year, in­clud­ing two in­ter­cep­tions and one fum­ble re­cov­ery. In ad­di­tion, he had four pass break-ups.

Two of the three inside linebackers re­turn — Gaither and se­nior William White (35.5 tack­les, one in­ter­cep­tion and three forced fum­bles). Mid­dle line­backer Bo Childers, a se­nior, will also help an­chor the de­fense.

“Bo is prob­a­bly one of our bet­ter ath­letes on the team,” com­pli­mented Hurst.

The out­side linebackers in­clude se­niors Cale Davis and Aaron Mal­colm. Fresh­man Quay Mad­dox will more than likely play a lot in pass­ing sit­u­a­tions.

“Aaron is more of a run­stop­per,” said Hurst, “so we’ll use them in­ter­change­ably, but I feel pretty good (about) them right now.”

Se­nior Andrew Vazquez is an­other re­turn­ing starter who is ca­pa­ble of see­ing sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time on both sides of the foot­ball.

De­spite their ex­pe­ri­ence, in or­der for the Ea­gles to ad­vance to the post­sea­son they must do a bet­ter job in third and long sit­u­a­tions, mean­ing elim­i­nate as many as pos­si­ble by suc­ceed­ing on first and sec­ond down.

“That’s one of the things we’ve got to im­prove on of­fen­sively,” ad­mit­ted Hurst.

And af­ter the 10th game of the sea­son, where do Hurst and the Ea­gles hope to stand?

“I hope to be play­ing 11,” smiled Hurst.

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Su­per­bad: East­side’s Johnny Nor­ring­ton runs the ball against ri­val New­ton last year. Nor­ring­ton is one of sev­eral lethal run­ning backs and re­ceivers that the Ea­gles will uti­lize this sea­son. In 2006, the Ea­gles were 5-5 over­all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.