Hoffman tells his story to Ki­wa­nis

The Covington News - - Sports - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

The Ki­wa­nis Club of Cov­ing­ton saw its most fa­mil­iar coach Thurs­day as Rick Hurst took the podium in front of the civic group for the eighth straight time.

Hurst has been at East­side longer than both New­ton's Cortez Allen and Al­covy's Kirk Hoffman.

Tak­ing the helm at East­side for the first time in 2005, Hurst has since trans­formed it into one of the area’s most con­sis­tent pro­grams and one of its re­gions' best teams. The Ki­wa­nis Club pro­vided a brief bi­og­ra­phy of Hurst de­tail­ing his ca­reer both with East­side and his pre­vi­ous stops.

That brief ca­reer de­scrip­tion got Hurst think­ing of where he and the Ea­gles have come from to get to the point where he con­sid­ered 2011’s 5-5 sea­son, “a down year.”

He re­freshed the crowd on his time at Americus, Wheeler High and then Ware County, where his son was born, which made him want to re­turn home to North Ge­or­gia. That’s when Hurst took the as­sis­tant head coach po­si­tion at Cen­tral Gwin­nett in 2002.

There he had one of his most mem­o­rable games, help­ing Cen­tral Gwin­nett beat Bu­ford, win­ners of 47 straight.

Hurst con­tin­ued his ca- reer tale with the part clos­est to the Cov­ing­ton Ki­wa­nis Club’s hearts, his time at East­side. Hurst took over the Ea­gles in 2005, tak­ing a job which he knew would be an up-hill climb.

“At East­side I knew what I was com­ing into,” Hurst said. “The tradition wasn’t there, there were not a whole lot of wins in the pro­gram, but I knew from some­one I knew per­son­ally that the tal­ent was there.”

Hurst’s first year at East­side was a chal­leng­ing one as the Ea­gles went 0-10, in­clud­ing a 27-20 loss to New­ton, 35-13 loss to Her­itage, 40-7 loss to Rock­dale and a sea­son-end­ing 28-7 de­feat by Salem.

The fi­nal loss of the sea­son was a turn­ing point for Hurst, and, in hind­sight, per­haps the East­side pro­gram. The losses were mount­ing for Hurst, who wasn’t used to miss­ing out on the play-

offs, yet alone miss­ing out on wins, and was start­ing to re­think his de­ci­sion.

“I be­gan to ques­tion my­self as to the job I was do­ing,” Hurst said. “The Salem coach comes up to me af­ter the game and says, ‘Rick let me tell you some­thing, that’s the best East­side team that we have played in the four years I’ve been here. I know we beat you but…’ he said, ‘what­ever you’re do­ing, you’re do­ing it right, be­cause those kids are play­ing their tails off for you.”

Af­ter that ex­change Hurst knew he and the Ea­gles were on the right track.

The fol­low­ing year, East­side fielded a team mainly con­sist­ing of ju­niors and sopho­mores and fin­ished 5-5.

“We just went from there,” Hurst said.

Two years later Hurst had the Ea­gles in the playoffs for the first of three straight years. Throughout the pe­riod stretch­ing from 20082010, the Ea­gles reached the semi­fi­nals, quar­ter­fi­nals and sec­ond round of the state playoffs.

That stretch is what gives Hurst the mind­set to tell groups like that gath­ered at the Ki­wa­nis meet­ing that a 5-5 sea­son is one he would like to cor­rect quickly.

Hurst has since told his team there would be changes this year. While the of­fense and de­fen­sive philoso­phies will be the same when East­side takes the field against New­ton on Aug. 31, there will be a big no­tice­able dif­fer­ence to Ea­gles’ fans.

East­side will have a sil­ver hel­met with green face mask, as op­posed to its tra­di­tional green hel­met with white face­mask.

That change also co­in­cides with East­side’s move from Re­gion 4-AAA to Re­gion 8-AAAA af­ter the Ge­or­gia High School As­so­ci­a­tion re­clas­si­fied teams this win­ter.

Hurst said he feels the sched­ule sets up for an­other pos­si­ble play­off ap­pear­ance, but it also sets up a great deal of travel.

“Look­ing at our sched­ule I think we have a very good op­por­tu­nity to get in (to the playoffs),” Hurst said. “What place, I don’t know. We are the far­thest south team, (the re­gion) ex­tends from us in Cov­ing­ton to Toc­coa. There will be heavy trav­el­ing for us.”

As far as which teams would come out of Re­gion 8-AAAA to reach the playoffs, Hurst wouldn’t spec­u­late too much but did say that Stephens County looks to be the most tal­ented team.

“Our ninth game against Stephens, I would love of that to be for the re­gion cham­pi­onship,” Hurst said. “From a tal­ent per­spec­tive, we’re prob­a­bly as tal­ented as any­body in our re­gion.

"But you can throw tal­ent out the win­dow be­cause have to ex­e­cute and you have to be in a po­si­tion to make plays.”

The Ea­gles first chance to be in such a po­si­tion is just a week away, when they host an in­ter-county show­down with New­ton at Sharp Sta­dium.

Bryan Fazio /The Cov­ing­ton News

Af­ter fin­ish­ing 5-5 in 2011, East­side football gets ready to be­gin its first sea­son in Re­gion 8-AAAA in a pre­sea­son ex­hi­bi­tion game at Her­itage. The Ea­gles open the 2012 sea­son against New­ton at 7:30 at Sharp Sta­dium.

Bryan Fazio /The Cov­ing­ton News

Rick Hurst speaks to the Ki­wa­nis Club of Cov­ing­ton Thurs­day about his team, East­side's, chances in 2012, and his coach­ing jour­ney.

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