HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Gary Hughes, first season
2012 RECORD/ ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 0-10
OFFENSIVE STYLE: Shotgun, two-back offense -- The Eagles will show sets similar to Auburn and Clemson.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Return 4 starters -- So. QB Cody Hardwick, Sr. RB Deangleo Moore (moved from WR), Jr. WR Tyrick Sheldon, Sr. OL Justin Akin, Sr. WR Caleb Hill, Sr. OL Robert Waterson
DEFENSIVE STYLE: 4-3 -- East Jackson will employ a read-type defensive style.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Return 3 starters -- Sr. LB Austin Beauchamp, Sr. DL Justin Akin, Sr. DB Deangleo Moore
SPECIAL TEAMS: Both the place-kicking and punting duties are still up in the air as of press-time. Moore will return punts and kickoffs.
STRENGTH: Offensive and defensive line -- The lines on both sides of the ball should be solid with experienced talent and depth. Hughes said they have quality at the skilled positions but not a lot of depth.
QUESTION: Special teams is still a work-in-progress and how the team responds to another coaching change will be telling. Can the offense, which was held to seven points or fewer in four region games, improve enough to be competitive in tough a region?
KEY GAMES: The Eagles open with four of their first five games at home and some early momentum could go a long way. However, they have a tough schedule with five playoff teams and three others that were in contention until late in the season on the slate. And they finish with four of their last five contests on the road, including back-to-back-to-back games against 2012 playoff teams Hart County, Morgan County, and North Oconee.
TRENDING: The Eagles have missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons and are in the midst of a 16-game losing streak.
Aug. 30 vs. Banks County
Sept. 6 at Commerce
Sept. 13 vs. East Hall
Sept. 20 vs. Jackson County
Sept. 27 vs. Elbert County
Oct. 4 at Hart County
Oct. 18 at Morgan County
Oct. 25 at North Oconee
Nov. 1 vs. Franklin County
Nov. 8 at Oconee County
COMMERCE -- This past spring, the East Jackson football program more resembled a bad soap opera or reality show than it did a sports team.<br />
After two-year coach Brian Smith was dismissed, Robert Andrews was named as replacement but then left because of financial issues within the county before ever officially taking the job.<br />
In came Gary Hughes, who was the defensive coordinator the past two seasons at Dacula and came to the Eagles with Andrews.<br />
Hughes said it was a wild ride for a while.<br />
"There was a lot going on but after Robert left they asked me to take over and I decided to do it," Hughes said. "I was here during the spring game, so I got to know the kids and the program before school ended."<br />
Hughes has plenty of coaching experience, as a head coach for 13 years at three different schools in central Florida from 1985-2001. Now his job is to get the Eagles, who are in the midst of a 16-game losing streak (going back to the fourth game of the 2011 season), on track.<br />
"Right now our goal is to get a winning attitude back," Hughes said. "We're just trying to crawl before we walk right now. We're rebuilding only from the standpoint that it's a new system for them. But I feel we have some kids that can play."<br />
Eagles fans will see plenty of changes, especially on offense, where East Jackson will employ a shotgun, two-back offense -- similar to what Auburn and Clemson run. Sophomore Cody Hardwick will take over at quarterback, and senior Deangleo Moore will move to the backfield from his receiver spot. Meanwhile, senior Caleb Hill and junior Tyrick Sheldon will give Hardwick two speedy, experienced receivers. The line should be strong, anchored by seniors Justin Akin and Robert Waterson.<br />
On defense, the Eagles will base out of a 4-3. Senior Austin Beauchamp will anchor the linebackers and Akin will lead the line. Moore will feature in the secondary.<br />
Hughes said gaining some early confidence is the next step as the Eagles try to reclaim the form of 2009 when they went to the playoffs.<br />
"When you've lost 16 straight games, any game is big for building some confidence, so getting some wins and seeing your success is important," he said. "We want to be as competitive as we can. That's our goal."
While title runs and the excitement of a busy spring sports season has stolen most of the headlines over the past few weeks, another group of dedicated athletes have been hard at work -- aiming for the headlines of this fall.