RABBITTOWN — Even East Hall football coach Michael Perry acknowledged it.
“No one is talking about (East Hall),” he said Thursday during a phone interview. “I mean, when you have teams like Jefferson, Flowery Branch, Cedar Shoals, North Oconee why would they. But I think by the time we get to the end of the season, we could get a mention.”
The Vikings are part of the new Region 8-4A, an amalgamation of five former regions in the northeast Georgia area. The old Region 8-4A was fractured in the new region realignment that takes effect for the 2020-21 school year.
Only Madison County, a Class 4A quarterfinalist in 2019, and North Oconee return from that five-team configuration. Cedar Shoals, which advanced to the second round in Class 5A, dropped down with Chestatee and Flowery Branch moving over from Region 7-4A. East Hall moved up from Region 7-3A and Jefferson, a quarterfinalist in Class 3A in 2019, moved up from Region 8-3A.
As a result, the new-and-improved Region 8-4A could be one of the most athletic and challenging regions in the classification. Rising stars like Jefferson junior Malaki Starks, which has garnered multiple Power 5 offers, and East Hall sophomore quarterback Clete Cooper, who finished 12th in the state in passing in 2019 (2,499 yards) return, as does Branch senior running back Jaizen Ellingham (818 yards, 14 TDs in just 7 games). Cedar Shoals junior running back Jerdavian Colbert (1,342 yards, 13TDs) and Chestatee senior quarterback Christian Charles (3,013 all-purpose yards) also plan on giving fans plenty to watch.
“I do think it’s going to be an athletic region,” Perry said. “There are some great players, some great teams, and some great coaches. For us, we’re just going to have to worry about what we do and try to get better as quickly as we can.”
Cooper returns to run an East Hall offense that posted 70 points in its final game of the 2019 season. But the Vikings lost their top two and four of their top six receivers from last season. They do return leading rusher in senior Mon Tabor (720 yards, 6 TDs) and several young but a year more experienced group along the line of scrimmage. Junior Macere Walker and sophomores Andrew Shockley and Matthew Lott could be a solid receiving corp by season’s end.
The defense, however, may well hold the key to whatever fortunes the Vikings can muster in 2020. They allowed 42.7 points a game in 2019, which was in the bottom five of Class 3A.
“There is no doubt we have to get better, a lot better, on defense,” Perry said. “That starts with me. I need to help make sure we have the right guys in the right spots. But we return six or seven guys that started at times last year and about a dozen more guys, most of them young, that saw a lot of action on that side.
“It’s still a work-in-progress on that side but I do think we’re going to be better than last year.”
On paper, most expect Jefferson and Branch to battle for the ultimate region title with Cedar Shoals and North Oconee to be early contenders for the final two playoff spots. But Cedar Shoals, North Oconee, and Madison County all lost significant numbers and production to graduation from last year’s playoff runs.
And while the Vikings, who finished just 2-8 in 2019, are one of just two teams in the newly-constructed region that did not make the playoffs in 2019 -- Chestatee being the other -- Perry said they expect to be right in the mix.
“I really see this region as being wide open from top to bottom,” he said. “The key for us will be having to score points for sure while we get the defense going. We’re really looking forward to the new region. It should be a lot of fun.”