Coming off a 63-12 trouncing of Graham on the road in last week’s season opener, Eastern Alamance is looking ahead to another inter-county road battle this week at Cummings. The Eagles (1-0) were running on all cylinders in the lopsided victory over the Red Devils, scoring two touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball along with a long kickoff return and a total of seven offensive scores.
It was the debut of new Eastern High offensive coordinator Will Walker, who is taking over for longtime Eagles coach Tony Aguilar, who left this spring to take over the head coaching duties at Eastern Guilford High School in nearby Gibsonville.
Walker’s first test with the Eagles was a smashing success, as the Eagles got numerous quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers involved in the offensive attack against Graham, and everyone played well in the win.
“I’ve known Coach Ag my whole life, since pee wee ball, playing with him, coaching with him. I love him to death,” Walker said. “We’re not making any changes really. I like a quick tempo. I like throwing the ball. We’ve got a lot of guys returning. So that made my transition super easy. Up front, we’ve basically got everybody back. Our receivers are young, but we’re going to do a great job. The foundation is there. These guys trust me. I’m going to make mistakes. They’re going to make mistakes. But we’ll be okay. We just have to stay healthy.”
“Coach Walker, he’s an Eastern Alamance guy. He’s been in our system. And he stepped right in after Coach Aguilar left,” added Eastern head coach John Kirby.
Kirby acknowledged that it was difficult to know just how much better his team got against Graham. What is for certain is that Eastern led 42-0 at the end of the first quarter, which ultimately led to a running clock throughout the second half. The Eagles were inserting their backups by the end of the first quarter, which meant that quarterback Austin Bryant only had to throw three passes - two of them for touchdowns.
Kirby admitted that it was a fine line between trying to evaluate the EAHS personnel and give them a chance to be successful on the varsity stage without looking like the Eagles were trying to embarrass Graham.
“It’s hard to tell (how much better we got). We’ve got some work to do,” Kirby said moments after the game. “Austin had all day to throw it. Austin played what, ten snaps or something in the first quarter? It’s hard, because it’s one of those things where if you do one thing, you look like a bad guy. If you do another thing, you look like you’re cheating your guys. I guess a good thing from this is you’re able to build depth. You’re hoping that some guys will pick it up and try to earn a spot, if somebody were to get hurt or if something (else) happens.”
One of the things that became abundantly clear during Friday night’s game is that despite the absence of projected starting running back Colby May, who isn’t expected back until October, the Eagles have some depth in the offensive backfield.
“It’s a big loss (losing May),” Kirby said. “But we’ve got some guys who are filling in. Hopefully this can make us better as a team.”
Elijah Burnette barely had to play, stepping aside to give varsity newcomer Quentin Idley a chance to show what he could do. But Burnette, who also plays safety for the Eagles, figures to carry a much heavier load in the offensive backfield in the coming weeks.
“I’ve played running back all my life. So going back to it was natural. I like the offensive side of the ball,” Burnette said.
Idley took advantage of his chance against the Red Devils and put on a show, rushing for over 130 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
“One-deep, I feel like we’re pretty good. We’ve just got to continue to build depth, and continue to get better,” Kirby said. “Quentin is a really good little player. It’s obvious he’s been in the weight room. It’s obvious he’s been training. It’s obvious he’s been doing a lot of things. Elijah Burnette is pretty good. And then we know Colby is pretty good. And one guy who didn’t play tonight, Tyree Wright, he’s not bad, either.”
“We do have some quality guys. If we can just give them a seam to run through, I think some good things can happen,” he added.
Along with Idley’s performance against one of the Red Devils, one of the most exciting things about Friday night’s performance was the play of some of Eastern’s tenth graders such as wide receiver Darius Kane and linebacker Joey Teixeira. Kane scored touchdowns on his first two varsity receptions as an Eagle, while Teixeira recorded touchdowns on a fumble return and an interception back-to-back as the Eagles were taking control midway through the first quarter.
“Our deal coming in is they had to grow up in a hurry. This is pretty much their first varsity experience,” Kirby said of the EAHS youngsters. “Darius is an outstanding player. Joey is a good player. I think Will Burnette is an outstanding player. They’re playing in valuable spots - two inside linebackers and a big receiver. The thing we’ve got to improve on. We’ve got to get better with our receiving corps - getting on the same page with Austin. I think once we do that, we’ll have several threats. I think we did well, and this game is going to get us better for the next couple of games coming up.”
In addition to his role as a wide receiver for the Eagles, Kane appears to be Eastern’s primary punt returner. Although he fair caught all his chances against Graham, Kane has the speed and elusiveness to be a potential gamebreaker on special teams. Another return threat is Elijah Burnette, who had a 60-plus yard kickoff return against Graham, and could be relied upon to take back kicks along with his play at running back and in the secondary.
Many of EAHS’s offensive and defensive starters are littered among the team’s various return and kickoff/punt coverage units, giving those units a combination of athleticism and experience.
“Special teams is a third of the game. And we do a lot,” Kirby said. “We did a lot during the spring, and continue to do so. I think that we’ve worked hard on that, because it is a game changer.”
Another threat on special teams for the Eagles is senior kicker Jackson Poteat, who was a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points against Graham, had three touchbacks, and boomed a 40-yard punt on his only attempt. Junior Emilyn Krans completed three kickoffs for the Eagles against the Red Devils, and added three extra points.
Poteat also nailed all four of his extra point attempts in the scrimmage against Orange. Poteat, a four-year contributor for the Eagles, also took an end-around rushing carry during the second half of the win over the Red Devils.
“Jackson Poteat, our kicker and punter, is our specialist. He’s been there ever since he’s been a freshman. He’s still handling those duties,” Kirby said. “He’s a good kicker. He’s a good player.”
Poteat is one piece of a large senior class - a senior class that got used to winning a lot of games at the junior varsity level at Eastern Alamance, but doesn’t want to leave high school without getting the Eagles back to the top of the Mid-State Conference. This is a tight-knit group of twelfth graders who are determined to go out as champions.
“Our motto this year is “Forget About Me, I Love Ya'll (FAMILY),” Kirby said. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors that are back. They’ve been a big part of our program. Been a big part of our team. We’ve got 21, 22 seniors on our team. We’ve got a big number of kids out on our JV and varsity team. We’ve got eight starters back on offense, and we return like seven starters on defense. We return the nucleus of some guys who have been experienced.”