FROM THE tone of things, you wouldn’t know these are summer football workouts in the 95-degree heat at East Jackson’s practice field.
Everyone seems to be having too much fun.
“We’re all just having a blast,” senior linebacker Caleb Hardy said last Monday. “We’re just coming out here and having fun. The coaches are doing a good job with us. We’re having consistent show-ups. Everybody is coming out and trying to do their job for us to get ‘W’s’ this fall.”
East Jackson underwent a coaching change in the offseason following a 3-7 season. New coach Brian Smith joined the program April 1 after a 9-1 season at Hebron Christian Academy. The players got acquainted to Smith during a two-week spring practice session and have picked up where they left off during these voluntary off-season workouts.
“We just kind of look at it as an extension of spring ball,” said Smith, who owns a 94-72 record between 13 seasons of high school and two years of college coaching.
To that end, the Eagles dedicate two hours a day, three-times a week doing strength and agility work, while also hitting the field for seven-on-seven intra-squad scrimmages. Smith is installing a no-huddle, spread offense and notes the value of these offseason workouts for East Jackson, which is still trying to find a quarterback along with several other positions.
“The way we play the game, we’re fast-paced with no huddle and the spread,” Smith said. “All this stuff, we can practice. Our linemen are working hard right now, our skill guys are working, and we’ve just got to get better and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”
The Eagles haven’t been confined to just their practice field. East Jackson has joined a Gwinnett County 7-on-7 passing league and, going up against the likes of Collins Hill, Grayson and Archer.
“All those are good teams,” Smith said. “It’s good work for us, it’s good work for the kids. We can’t simulate that in practice.”
Smith – who played for Danny Ford and Ken Hatfield at Clemson in the late 1980s and early 1990s – spent the last two years coaching in Gwinnett County at Hebron.
Hebron was a young, small, Class A private program without its own football stadium. For Smith, who coached at three high schools in South Carolina and collegiately at North Greenville University prior to coming to Georgia, East Jackson is more what he’s used.
“We were joking,” Smith said. “It takes us longer to run (now), it takes us longer to workout because we’ve got more kids, but it’s something that we’ve been used to.”
Though his roster was small at Hebron, Smith felt he was able to get the most out of those players, going 14-4 in two seasons, and is seeing that kind of dedication so far at East Jackson.
“I cannot fault their effort,” Smith said. “Their effort has been phenomenal. They have worked hard.”
East Jackson hopes the work they’re putting in now pays off come fall. The Eagles are just two years removed from a 10-2 season in 2009 in which they advanced to the second round of the Class AA playoffs.
Senior running back-defensive back C.J. Allen was a part of that squad that went 9-1 in the regular season, finished as runners-up in Region 8-AA and beat Manchester in opening round of the playoffs. Allen feels that the program can get back to those winning ways with Smith and the new coaches’ guidance. He points to the open communication between the players and this new staff.
“I expect for us to be really good,” Allen said. “Because the coaches that we’ve got now, they actually tell us what we need to do on the field, how to do it on the field and what not to do on the field. They’re just like our friends out here. They talk to us, make jokes with us and everything.”
It’s only June, and it’s hot, but the Eagles hope this is the start of something good.
“I feel like we might be pretty good this year,” Allen said. “We might make it back to the playoffs.”
Just to give the community an inside look on what's going on: The guys are really hitting it hard and there has been consistent good attitude and good atmosphere at practice. We are putting in hard work everyday to ensure a positive season and one that will not only be pleasing to the players but also to you as a community. On behalf of the players i would like to say THANK YOU for all your continued support. And we are getting ready for a great season!